Case volume and specialization in critically ill emergency patients: a nationwide cohort study in Japanese ICUs

J Intensive Care. 2024 May 17;12(1):20. doi: 10.1186/s40560-024-00733-3.


Background: Previous studies have explored the association between the number of cases and patient outcomes for critical illnesses such as sepsis and trauma, as well as various surgeries, with the expectation that a higher number of cases would have a more favorable effect on patient outcomes. The aim of this study was to elucidate the association among intensive care unit (ICU) case volume, specialization, and patient outcomes in critically ill emergency patients and to determine how ICU case volumes and specializations impact the outcomes of these patients in Japanese ICUs.

Methods: Utilizing data from the Japanese Intensive Care PAtient Database (JIPAD) from April 2015 to March 2021, this retrospective cohort study was conducted in 80 ICUs across Japan and included 72,214 emergency patients aged ≥ 16 years. The primary outcome measure was in-hospital mortality, and the secondary outcomes encompassed ICU mortality, 28-day mortality, ventilator-free days, and the lengths of ICU and hospital stays. Bayesian hierarchical generalized linear mixed models were used to adjust for patient- and ICU-level variables.

Results: This study revealed a significant association between a higher ICU case volume and decreased in-hospital mortality. In particular, ICUs with a higher percentage (> 75%) of emergency patients showed more pronounced effects, with the odds ratios for in-hospital mortality in the higher case volume quartiles (Q2, Q3, and Q4) being 0.92 (95% credible interval [CI]: 0.88-0.96), 0.70 (95% CI: 0.67-0.73), and 0.78 (95% CI: 0.73-0.83), respectively, compared with the lowest quartile (Q1). Similar trends were observed for various secondary outcomes.

Conclusions: Higher ICU case volumes were significantly associated with lower in-hospital mortality rates in Japanese ICUs predominantly treating critically ill emergency patients. These findings emphasize the importance of ICU specialization and highlight the potential benefits of centralized care for critically ill emergency patients. These findings are potential insights for improving health care policy in Japan and may be valuable in emergency care settings in other countries with similar healthcare systems, after careful consideration of contextual differences.

Keywords: Case volume; Critically ill patient; Emergency care; In-hospital mortality; Nationwide cohort study.