Research

Factors influencing decisions to admit or refuse patients entry to a South African tertiary intensive care unit

P D Gopalan, K de Vasconcellos

Abstract


Background. When critically ill patients with life-threatening conditions need urgent, expensive, life-sustaining care, admission and triage decision-making may be extremely challenging as critical care practitioners strive to balance these high-stakes, high-stress, time-sensitive decisions against a limited resource. The factors affecting the decision to admit or refuse a patient entry to an intensive care unit (ICU) have not been described in the South African (SA) context.

Objectives. To identify and describe the factors that influence ICU triage decision-making for patients referred to a regional/tertiary facility for intensive care.

Methods. A retrospective review of recorded data from January 2014 to December 2017 was conducted for all referrals to the 12-bed, intensivist-led, closed general ICU at King Edward VIII Hospital, an 800-bed tertiary public facility in KwaZulu-Natal Province, SA. Data were extracted to identify factors associated with the decision to admit or refuse patients referred to the unit. Significant factors on univariate analysis were then included in a multivariable analysis using binary logistic regression to identify significant independent factors.

Results. A total of 4 469 referrals were received over the 48-month period studied. Of these, 507 (11.3%) were withdrawn before a final decision of acceptance or refusal and 94 (2.1%) had an unknown outcome, leaving 3 868 referrals where an acceptance/refusal decision was made as our study cohort. Of these, 38.7% were refused admission. The commonest reason for refusal (57.0%) was assessment of the patient as ‘too sick’ by the admitting specialist. Multivariable analysis identified age, referring discipline as medicine, poor or unknown premorbid functioning, and comorbidities of HIV, malignancy and cardiac failure as significant factors for refusal of admission to the ICU. Referrals were significantly more likely to be accepted from private institutions, and if the comorbidity was asthma or psychiatric disease.

Conclusions. A better understanding of factors affecting ICU admission/refusal decisions will allow for a more effective and appropriate referral process and more rational utilisation of scarce ICU resources. Further prospective studies are necessary to elucidate fully the impact of various other factors.

 


Authors' affiliations

P D Gopalan, Discipline of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care, School of Clinical Medicine, College of Health Sciences, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa; Intensive Care Unit, King Edward VIII Hospital, Durban, South Africa

K de Vasconcellos, Discipline of Anaesthesiology and Critical Care, School of Clinical Medicine, College of Health Sciences, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa; Intensive Care Unit, King Edward VIII Hospital, Durban, South Africa

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Keywords

Critical care; Intensive care unit; ICU admission; ICU triage; Factors influencing ICU admission decisions; ICU decision-making

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2019;109(9):645-651. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2019.v109i9.13678

Article History

Date submitted: 2019-08-28
Date published: 2019-08-28

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