Clinical question: How does the clinical decompensation of a ward patient affect the likelihood of another patient’s decompensation?
Background: Previous research has attempted to identify patient-specific characteristics for risk of decompensation, but there may be environmental factors that contribute.
Setting: Thirteen geographically distinct, adult medical-surgical wards at an academic medical center.
Synopsis: Of 83,723 admissions to medical-surgical wards, 4,286 patients experienced cardiac arrest (179) or were transferred to the ICU (4,107). When one or more of these events occurred, other patients on the same ward had an increased risk for either event over the subsequent 6 (OR 1.18; CI, 1.07-1.31) and 12 hours and the risk was higher if more than one event occurred. Importantly, for patients exposed to other patients on the same ward decompensating, there were no differences in the severity of illness for patients transferred to ICU or in overall mortality.
Intuitively, when one patient becomes critically ill, other patients receive less attention. Though the effect was small, this study highlights that diversion of resources may increase other patients to greater risk. Surprisingly, the increased risk was not significant during night-time hours, when resources are more limited, but data collection may have been also affected.
Bottom Line: When a patient becomes critically ill, another patient on the same ward is more likely to decompensate within the next 6-12 hours, but the effect is small.
Citations: Volchenboum SL, Mayampurath A, Göksu-Gürsoy G, et al. Association between in-hospital critical illness events and outcomes in patients on the same ward. JAMA. 2016;316(24):2674-5.
Dr. Anstett is Hospital Medicine Fellow in Quality and Systems Leadership, Division of Hospital Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora.