Practice Management

Open ICUs giveth and taketh away


Background: Some academic medical centers and many community centers use “open” ICU models in which primary services longitudinally follow patients into the ICU with intensivist comanagement.

Dr. Joseph Sweigart

Design: Semistructured interviews with 12 hospitalists and 8 intensivists.

Setting: Open 16-bed ICUs at the University of California, San Francisco. Teams round separately at the bedside and are informally encouraged to check in daily.

Synopsis: The authors iteratively developed the interview questions. Participants were selected using purposive sampling. The main themes were communication, education, and structure. Communication was challenging among teams as well as with patients and families. The open ICU was felt to affect handoffs and care continuity positively. Hospitalists focused more on longitudinal relationships, smoother transitions, and opportunities to observe disease evolution. Intensivists focused more on fragmentation during the ICU stay and noted cognitive disengagement among some team members with certain aspects of patient care. Intensivists did not identify any educational or structural benefits of the open ICU model.

This is the first qualitative study of hospitalist and intensivist perceptions of the open ICU model. The most significant limitation is the risk of bias from the single-center design and purposive sampling. These findings have implications for other models of medical comanagement.

Bottom line: Open ICU models offer a mix of communication, educational, and structural barriers as well as opportunities. Role clarity may help optimize the open ICU model.

Citation: Santhosh L and Sewell J. Hospital and intensivist experiences of the “open” intensive care unit environment: A qualitative exploration. J Gen Intern Med. 2020;35(8):2338-46.

Dr. Sweigart is a hospitalist at the Lexington (Ky.) VA Health Care System.

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