We’ve all experienced it. A seriously injured trauma patient is admitted to the ICU and begins the process of recovery. Everything looks well, and after a few days they’re transferred to a ward bed. But then they languish, never really doing what we expect. Finally (and usually in the middle of the night), they begin to look bad enough where we have to transfer them back to the ICU. Before or after the call to the Rapid Response Team. Yes, it’s the feared “unexpected readmission to ICU.”
What’s the problem here? A failure of the ICU team? Did they send the patient out too soon? Did we all miss something about the patient? And is there any way we can avoid this problem? The major issue is that these “bounce backs” tend to do poorly compared to patients who successfully stay in their ward bed. Estimates are that mortality for patients successfully and finally discharged from the ICU range from 4-8%, whereas the mortality in bounce back patients is 20-40%!
Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston looked at the characteristics that defined the bounce back patient. They reviewed nearly 2000 patients discharged from their trauma ICU and analyzed the variables that predicted an unplanned bounce back. They noted the following interesting factoids:
- More than two thirds of bounce backs occurred within 3 days
- Males, patients with an initial GCS < 9, transfer during the day shift were the major risk factors
- More comorbidities was associated with a higher chance of bounce back
- Mortality in the bounce back group was 20%
- The most common immediate factors causing bounce back were respiratory failure or bleeding
Bottom line: This is an intriguing single-institution study that supports my own personal observations. Fewer bounce backs occur at night because staffing tends to be lower and there is more resistance to transfers out of the ICU then. Both the ICU team and the ward team need to scrutinize every transfer carefully. Significant head injury or the presence of medical comorbidities should trigger a careful assessment to make sure that the transfer is appropriate. Otherwise, your patient may be placed in unnecessary jeopardy.
Next, I’ll discuss when an unexpected return to ICU is not an unexpected return!
Reference: Intensive care unit bounce back in trauma patients: An analysis of unplanned returns to the intensive care unit. J Trauma 74(6):1528-1533, 2013.