Objectives: (a) To examine the frequency, type, and severity of complications occurring in a pediatric intensive care unit; (b) to identify populations at risk; and (c) to study the impact of complications on morbidity and mortality.
Design: Prospective survey.
Setting: Pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) of a university-affiliated hospital.
Patients: 1035 consecutive admissions over an 18-month period.
Results: 115 complications occurred during 83 (8.0%) admissions, for 2.7 complications per 100 PICU-days; 48 (42%) complications were major, 45 (39%) moderate, and 22 (19%) minor. Sixty complications (52%) were ventilator-related, 14 were drug-related, 13 procedure-related, 24 infectious, and 22 involved invasive devices (18 vascular catheters). Human error was involved in 41 (36%) cases, 21 of which were major (18%). Treatments included reintubation < 24 h (28), intravenous antimicrobials (24), and invasive bedside procedures (14). Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was required in 6 patients. Thirteen patients with complications died (15.7%); 2 deaths were directly due to complications. Patients with complications were younger, had longer lengths of stay, and had a higher mortality. Length of stay was a positive risk factor for complication risk (odds ratio = 1.09, 95% confidence interval: 1.05 to 1.13; p = 0.0001); other patient characteristics had no predictive effect. Kaplan-Meier estimates showed that the most severe complications occurred early in the PICU stay. The best indicators of patient mortality were number of complications (odds ratio = 2.96, 95% confidence interval 1.72 to 5.08; p = 0.0001), and mortality risk derived from the Pediatric Risk of Mortality Score (odds ratio = 1.08, 95% confidence interval 1.06 to 1.10; p = 0.0001). Mortality was correlated with increasing severity of complications.
Conclusion: Complications have a significant impact on patient care. Patients may be at increased risk earlier in their PICU course, when the number of interventions may be greatest. Complications may increase patient mortality and predict patient death better than other patient variables.