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Health Team

Study: Elderly ICU patients face risks after hospital release

Posted March 2, 2010 5:40 p.m. EST
Updated March 2, 2010 6:37 p.m. EST

Many elderly patients in intensive care have a high-risk of death, re-hospitalization or other problems over the six months following their release, according to new research.

Columbia University researchers studied a random 5 percent sample of Medicare patients who received ICU treatment in 2003. Their progress was tracked over the next three years.

“We found that the risk for patients who have been in the ICU really was concentrated in a few select groups, including those who required mechanical ventilation and those who were discharged to skilled-care facilities,” Dr. Hannah Wunsch said.

Up to one-third of the discharged ICU patients needed to go to a skilled-care facility. Of the patients who required mechanical ventilation, two-thirds of those patients went to a skilled-care facility.

The study showed that, in 2003, more than 35,000 patients received ICU care and survived to hospital discharge. Overall, they had an increased risk of death even after three years.

Wunsch said the study suggests that “there is an impact of being critically ill that we don't fully understand,  that it's just not an acute process, that there's a kind of chronic component that creeps in there.”

Though the focus is to help patients go home, that isn’t always what happens.

“This is really the period of time when we need to be focusing on with these patients to ensure that they get the best possible care and that they're able to go on and move forward from their critical illness,” Wunsch said.

Researchers say further study is needed. They want to explore what kind of care these patients need and why they're not receiving the same quality of life they had before hospitalization.