Hospitals fall short on ICU staffing levels

Accreditation Insider, July 19, 2016

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A new study by the Leapfrog Group has found that 53% of hospitals meet the group’s standards for intensive care unit [ICU] staffing. ICUs in America receive 4.6 million patients every year and research shows that patient survival increases 40% in a properly staffed ICU.

“Having an intensivist present in the ICU saves lives, period,” said Leapfrog CEO Leah Binder in a press release. “Patients and families should be on high alert if their hospital lacks this essential coverage. Moreover, if their hospital has declined to report at all, the public has no way of knowing about how the ICU is staffed.”

The Leapfrog Group defines an adequately staffed ICU as having at least one board-certified intensivist working exclusively in the ICU. Those intensivists must be available eight hours a day, seven days a week, and be able to respond to calls within five minutes 95% of the time. The data also found that:

•    ICU staffing levels have slowly improved, increasing from 30% in 2007 to 47% in 2015.
•    There’s huge variation in ICU staffing levels by state. Arizona had the best staffing numbers, with 87% of facilities in compliance. Six states had 60% ICU compliance, while in 10 states fewer than 30% of hospitals had enough intensivists. No state had over 90% compliance.

The report did note that numerous hospitals declined to release their ICU staffing information for the Leapfrog Hospital Survey. Binder said that patients should contact hospitals that didn’t respond to the Leapfrog Hospital Survey explaining why they want this information and say they want full transparency. Leapfrog’s calculated 47% is based off the hospitals that released their staffing.

“Hospital quality and cost information is vital to enabling individuals to make the best choices for their health,” Kristin Mowat, senior vice president at Castlight Health, said in a statement. “Leapfrog’s data illustrates how essential it is to report ICU physician staffing. Proper intensivist staffing is crucial to the proper care of patients with the most critical need. This study and Leapfrog’s work are important to driving visibility and change in hospital practices, which will ultimately lead to better patient care.”

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