Researchers: EHRs can improve ICU patient flow

Electronic health record systems may be the "most promising" approach to dealing with bed shortages in the intensive care unit, according to a recent commentary published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

ICUs are intended for to be reserved for critically ill patients. However, the demand for ICU beds often exceeds the supply.  The researchers, from the University of Michigan, suggested that EHRs should be used more frequently to calculate the risk of death of patients in the ICU to improve patient flow and triage, and to reduce delays of admission of patients into the ICU.

The researchers examined the records of more than 100,000 patients admitted for reasons other than surgery to 121 VA acute care hospitals. They found that the ICU, which typically is reserved for only the most severely ill patients, actually admitted an overly high number of patients who had cardiac illness but were relatively well; that severity of illness played a "negligible role" in ICU admitting decisions.

"We believe it makes the most sense to use the ICU for the most seriously ill patients or those who stand to benefit the most from critical care and to harness the emerging power of the EHR across large health systems to evaluate how we can best use a very expensive and limited resource," the authors stated.

This is not the first time that stakeholders have focused on the connection between EHRs and ICUs. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality last fall awarded The Oregon Health and Sciences University $1 million to develop a simulation environment based on real ICU cases and cutting edge technology to test EHR use and improve how providers interact with the large amount of EHR data. 

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