Multicenter Intensivist Weekend Scheduling Study

2014-08-27 03:12:50 | BioPortfolio


The care of critically ill patients in Intensive Care Units (ICUs) is an important part of modern health care systems. However, ICU care suffers from similar problems as the rest of the health care system. Powerful arguments support the concept that most of problems in complex systems, such as ICUs, relates to flaws in institutional systems and processes that hinder the ability of individuals to perform their jobs well. To fix these problems, the defective systems and processes must be redesigned in ways that make it easy for people to do their job well, and hard to make mistakes. Altering the structure of ICU care for the purpose of improving ICU performance is an example of Organizational Systems Engineering, alternatively called Total Quality Management.

Another serious problem in ICU care is that after 2007 there will be a increasing shortage of physicians specializing in the care of the critically ill (Intensivists), with a 35% shortfall by 2030. One contributor to this shortage is that Intensivists retire at a younger age than do physicians in general, and often curtail their care of critically ill patients even before they retire. It is likely that the emotional and physical demands of this career choice leads Intensivists to "burn out" and leave the field prematurely. For these reasons it is important to find ways to make working as an Intensivist more sustainable so that the most experienced practitioners will continue in the field up to a normal retirement age.

The way in which groups of Intensivists organize themselves to provide care in an ICU is highly variable. One potentially important way in which Intensivist staffing differs is in the degree of continuity of care. The more days in a row that the same physician cares for a patient the greater the continuity of care. While it is generally held that a higher continuity of care results in better care and better outcomes for patients, in fact there are no studies addressing this issue. On the other side of the coin however, it seems likely that working many days in a row increases the physical and emotional burdens on the Intensivist, increasing job distress and job burnout over time.

A common pattern of Intensivist staffing, in which continuity of care is reduced, is when the Intensivist who is caring for ICU patients during the weekdays has the weekend off, during which one of his/her partners provides "cross-coverage". While it is reasonable to hypothesize that cross-coverage would lead to inefficient patient care, at the same time it may reduce the burdens on the Intensivists.

This purpose of this study is to investigate the effects of weekend cross-coverage on both ICU patients and on Intensivists. This will be a multicenter study performed in 4 member institutions of the Midwest Critical Care Consortium: The University of Toledo, MetroHealth Medical Center, Ohio State University, and Indiana University. Five adult medical ICUs from the six institutions will participate in this study, with two ICUs from the Ohio State University site.

To answer the research questions, each participating ICU will alternate between two common models of Intensivist staffing. In both models an Intensivist is responsible for ICU care for 14 days. In the Continuous model, a single Intensivist will be responsible for all 14 days. In the Discontinuous model, both weekends during the 14 days will be cross-covered by a colleague. Continuity of care is higher in the Continuous model, which has 2 physician transitions over a 4 week period, while the Discontinuous model has 8 transitions per 4 weeks. Each participating ICU will use one model for 12 weeks, then switch to the other model for 12 weeks, and finally revert back to the first model for the final 12 weeks of this 36 week study. To address problems of historical controls, seasonal differences, and to increase comparability of groups, the participating ICUs have been randomly assigned to begin the study either with the Continuous or Discontinuous model.

Comparisons will be made between the two scheduling models in: (1) patient outcomes, specifically hospital mortality rate, ICU length of stay, and hospital length of stay, and (2) Intensivist outcomes, specifically job distress, job burnout, and the balance between work and home life.

Since there is currently nothing known about whether weekend cross-coverage influences medical care, both models of care are common in ICUs. Thus the investigators expect that the findings of this study will have general relevance. While the patients admitted to the participating ICUs during this study would not be expected to benefit from this investigation, the results derived are expected to enable policy makers to make evidence-based decisions about this important aspect of ICU physician staffing and thus improve the performance and/or cost-effectiveness of ICU care, benefiting future ICU patients, and society.

Study Design

Observational Model: Ecologic or Community, Time Perspective: Prospective


Critical Illness


Alternative Intensivist staffing models.


Indiana University Hospital
United States




University of Manitoba

Results (where available)

View Results


Published on BioPortfolio: 2014-08-27T03:12:50-0400

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