Objective: Intrahospital transport of critically ill patients is often necessary for optimal patient care. However, transport of intensive care unit (ICU) patients within the hospital has been associated with a high rate of potentially detrimental complications. This study was designed to determine the occurrence rate of transport-related complications and to determine if these complications have any effect on patient morbidity and mortality.
Design: Prospective, cohort-matched study.
Setting: A 780-bed urban, university teaching hospital.
Patients: Seven hundred fifty-nine surgical ICU patients.
Interventions: One hundred seventy-five patients were transported out of the surgical ICU for diagnostic testing or operative interventions deemed necessary by their surgical or critical care team.
Measurements and main results: Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation (APACHE) II and APACHE III scores were determined 24 hrs after admission. Transport patients were stratified into low-risk and high-risk transport groups. Patients were considered a high-risk transport if they required positive end-expiratory pressure of > 5 cm H2O, a continuous infusion of dobutamine, or a continuous infusion of norepinephrine. The high-risk group was further stratified into three groups based on the number of defined treatment regimens required to maintain the patient during transport. The patients were then followed during their transport for any potentially detrimental complications, such as a need for an increased dose of vasoactive medications, loss of intravenous access, a need for additional ventilatory support, or cardiopulmonary arrest. APACHE-matched control cohorts were identified as patients who did not leave the surgical ICU. The overall occurrence rate of complications was similar in the two groups (low-risk group, 6.3%; high-risk group, 5.5%). The mortality rate for all transport patients was 28.6%, which was statistically higher (p < .01) than the mortality rate for all control patients (11.4%). However, there was no mortality as a direct result of a transport. The overall mortality rate (10.9%) of the low-risk group was not significantly different from the APACHE-matched controls (6.0%). The overall mortality rate (51.4%) in the high-risk group was significantly higher (p < .01) than the APACHE-matched controls, but was not statistically higher than predicted mortality (p = .416). Both the low-risk and the high-risk groups stayed in the surgical ICU three times as long as the APACHE-matched control cohorts.
Conclusions: Intrahospital transport of critically ill patients is safe and carries a low risk of detrimental complications. Although patients requiring "high-risk" interventions experienced a higher mortality rate than did APACHE-matched controls, the increase in mortality does not appear to be directly related to the intrahospital transport. Patients requiring transport out of the surgical ICU are a more critically ill group of patients. These patients require a greater length of stay in the surgical ICU and may experience an increased mortality rate by virtue of the severity of their illness.