Objective: To assess whether physicians can identify very low likelihood of survival and very low likelihood of favorable functional outcome in adult nontrauma patients before admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) from the emergency department (ED).
Design: Prospective survey.
Setting: University hospital ED and ICU.
Participants and patients: Critical care fellows and ED physicians and all adult nontrauma patients admitted to the ICU from the ED over 1 yr.
Measurements and main results: The survey compared predictions of poor outcome from three sources: critical care fellows, ED physicians, and the admission Mortality Probability Model (MPM0). All patients were followed until hospital death or hospital discharge. Six-month follow-up data were obtained for patients predicted to have a < 2% chance of surviving with favorable functional outcome. In the ED, critical care fellows and ED physicians predicted likelihood of patient survival and likelihood of favorable functional outcome. MPM0 estimates of mortality were determined. The sensitivities, specificities, and positive predictive values were calculated for the predictions of < 2% survival and the predictions of < 2% chance of favorable functional outcome made by each prediction group. Complete data were obtained on 236 (96%) of 243 eligible patients. With regard to hospital mortality rate, fellows' predictions had a sensitivity of 27%, a specificity of 99%, and a positive predictive value of 88%; ED physicians' predictions had a sensitivity of 24%, a specificity of 98%, and a positive predictive value of 81%; and MPM0 predictions had a sensitivity of 2%, a specificity of 100%, and a positive predictive value of 100%. With regard to mortality rate combined with poor functional outcome, fellows' predictions had a sensitivity of 35%, a specificity of 99%, and a positive predictive value of 96%; ED physicians' predictions had a sensitivity of 37%, a specificity of 99%, and a positive predictive value of 96%.
Conclusions: If a cutoff point of < 2% predicted survival is used in the triage of patients away from the ICU, the MPM0 has too low a sensitivity to be used as an effective screen. The low sensitivities and relatively low positive predictive values with wide confidence intervals of physician predictions of < 2% survival also preclude their use in triage. The addition of functional outcome as an end point improves the sensitivity, specificity, and positive predictive value of subjective predictions, making triage of patients away from the ICU at the time of ED evaluation a realistic possibility.