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Understanding irresponsible use of intensive care unit resources in the USA

The Lancet: Respiratory Medicine July 1, 2019

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Research Areas


Use of intensive care unit (ICU) resources in the USA far outpaces that of other countries. This increased use is not accompanied by superior clinical outcomes and is at times discordant with patient desires. This Series paper seeks to identify major drivers of ICU resource use in the USA, and to offer steps towards better aligning ICU resource use with clinical needs and patient preferences. After considering several factors, such as organisational, ethical, and economic factors, we suggest that there are four intersecting drivers of irresponsible use of ICU resources in the USA: first, excess ICU bed capacity and a scarcity of data to understand which patients that truly benefit from ICU compared with ward care; second, clinicians misinterpreting the goals and means of patient autonomy; third, an extreme fear of rationing by the general public; and fourth, fee-for-service driven use of advanced medical technologies and procedures that beget ICU expansion.