Objectives: To characterize the contemporary red cell transfusion practice in the critically ill and to define clinical factors that influence these practices.
Design: Scenario-based national survey.
Study population: Canadian critical care practitioners.
Measurements and main results: We evaluated transfusion thresholds before transfusion and the number of red cell units ordered, under the given conditions. Of 254 Canadian critical care physicians, 193 (76%) responded to the survey. The primary specialty of most respondents was internal medicine (56%). Internal medicine respondents were in practice for an average of 8.4 +/- 5.7 (SD) yrs, and worked most often in combined medical/surgical intensive care units. Baseline hemoglobin transfusion thresholds averaged from 8.3 +/- 1.0 g/dL in a scenario involving a young stable trauma victim to 9.5 +/- 1.0 g/dL for an older patient after gastrointestinal bleeding. Transfusion thresholds differed significantly (p< .0001) between all four separate scenarios. With the exception of congestive heart failure (p> .05), all clinical factors (including age, Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation II score, preoperative status, hypoxemia, shock, lactic acidosis, coronary ischemia, and chronic anemia) significantly (p< .0001) modified the transfusion thresholds. A statistically significant (p< .01) difference in baseline transfusion thresholds was noted across four major regions (with a maximum of five academic centers per region) of the country. Low physician numbers in two of the regions did not allow for further investigation of regional variations.
Conclusions: There is significant variation in critical care transfusion practice, with many intensivists adhering to a 10.0-g/dL threshold, while other physicians described a much more restrictive approach to red cell transfusion. Also, many physicians opted to administer multiple units, despite published guidelines to the contrary. Additionally, the administration of red cells was strongly influenced by a number of clinical factors, many unique to intensive care unit patients. There is a need for prospective studies to define optimal practice in the critically ill.