ICU support after discharge can help with recovery, but few patients take advantage of it

Although patients who return home after a stay in an intensive care unit often need assistance and remain traumatized by the experience, many of them don’t take advantage of support groups that are now available at hospitals across the country.

In fact, it’s not unusual for many physicians and counselors who run the groups to sit and talk with one another because patients fail to show up to the meetings, according to an article in STAT.  But that’s not because the patients and caregivers don’t need the support, they just don’t know the resources are available.

“For people to even look online for a support group assumes a level of knowledge about post-ICU that doesn’t really exist among laypeople,” Daniela Lamas, M.D., a critical care doctor who works in the ICU at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told the publication. While patients may look for a support group for a particular condition or injury, Lamas said they often don’t know about support available for those who have survived and are traumatized after a stint in the ICU.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which recently launched a series of ICU Recovery Centers throughout the country, is one of 17 medical centers in the U.S. that has received funding from the Society of Critical Care Medicine to offer ICU support groups for individuals who have experienced serious, life-threatening illnesses. In addition to support, James Jackson, Psy.D., research associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt, hopes the support groups will help improve outcomes and help patients regain confidence and take risks they weren’t willing to take before.

Some hospitals, discouraged by the lack of attendance at their meetings even after promoting them in brochures and encouraging clinicians to discuss them in follow-up visits, have turned to nontraditional support group methods to reach out to “ICU survivors.” For example, STAT reports that Annie Johnson, a nurse practitioner at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, has started an online support community for former ICU patients and their caregivers to talk with other patients as well as with critical care nurses and physicians.

The Society of Critical Care Medicine has also established a weekly virtual support group that focuses on post-intensive care syndrome, a range of mental and physical problems that often follow an ICU stay.