Cost effectiveness in the intensive care unit

Surg Clin North Am. 1996 Feb;76(1):175-200. doi: 10.1016/s0039-6109(05)70430-8.


Effective policies to reduce true costs will require integrated information systems and demand behavioral changes from providers. A congenial environment must be created among medical educators, providers, vendors, and consumers if cost reduction is to be accomplished without compromising quality or access to critical care services. Physicians should do everything they believe may be of benefit for their patients, but we have an obligation to educate the public about the limitations of our art and the fact that "doing everything" is not always best for the patient or the grieving family. A significant method of controlling ICU costs is closely monitoring which patients are admitted and when they are discharged. Laboratory tests represent a source of cost reduction, and physicians must learn to order specific tests and not simply a battery of tests which includes the actual test desired. Limits should be placed on the tests that are ordered in terms of number and frequency. Improved efficiency of the utilization of resources should improve the care of our patients. The largest budget item of any or most critical care units is nursing; it is paramount that this essential and invaluable resource be utilized in a cost-effective manner. Diminishing unnecessary activity will both decrease complications and have salutary effects. Having more time to be with patients and their families will decrease our sense of failure and fulfill the important goal of caring. Physicians and nurses can return to thinking, assessing, and decision making instead of frenetically ordering, reacting, and intervening, which, we believe, accurately describes informational overload created by undue emphasis on high technology. In this way, we can respond to Fuch's exhortation that "physicians consider the possibility of contributing more by doing less." In responding, however, we must never forget that the societal, not merely the economic impact of medical care, is our principal consideration. We must first contribute more by achieving a greater understanding of the medical care process. Only then can we know how to do less at the bedside. We can and must distinguish between costly and high-quality care--they are not necessarily synonymous.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cost Control
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Critical Pathways
  • Florida
  • Hospital Costs*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / economics*
  • Medical Futility
  • Patient Admission
  • Patient Selection
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Total Quality Management / organization & administration*
  • United States