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A nationwide survey of intensive care unit discharge practices

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To describe intensive care unit (ICU) discharge practices, examine factors associated with physicians’ discharge decisions, and explore ICU and hospital characteristics and clinical determinants associated with the discharge process.


Survey in adult ICUs affiliated with the Swiss Society of Intensive Care Medicine.


Questionnaire inquiring about ICU structure and organization mailed to 73 medical directors. Level of monitoring, intravenous medications, and physiological variables were proposed as elements of discharge decision. Five clinical situations were presented with request to assign a discharge disposition.

Measurements and results

Fifty-five ICUs participated, representing 75% of adult Swiss ICUs. Responsibility for patient management was assigned in 91% to the ICU team directing patient care. Only 22% of responding centers used written discharge guidelines. One-half of the respondents considered at least 10 of 15 proposed criteria to decide patient discharge. ICUs in central referral hospitals used fewer criteria than community and private hospitals. The availability of intermediate care units was significantly greater in university hospitals. The ICU director’s level of experience was not associated with the number of criteria used. In the five clinical scenarios there was wide variation in discharge decision.


Our data indicate that there is marked heterogeneity in ICUs discharge practices, and that discharge decisions may be influenced by institutional factors. University teaching hospitals had more intermediate care facilities available. Written discharge guidelines were not widely used.

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The study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation Grant SCORE 3232-069341. The Swiss ICU Network Group participated in developing the study protocol and contributed to the present study. Members of the Swiss ICU Network are: P. Eckert, MD (Sion), H. Pargger, MD (Basel), M. Maggiorini, MD (Zürich), J.-P. Revelly, MD (Lausanne), J.-A. Romand, MD (Geneva), H.-U. Rothen MD (Berne). The authors wish to thank all the participating ICUs who devoted time for this survey questionnaire. The authors are also very grateful to Prof. Peter M. Suter for revising the manuscript and for his helpful suggestions.

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Correspondence to Claudia-Paula Heidegger.

Additional information

This work was performed in the Division of Surgical Intensive Care, Department of Anesthesia, Pharmacology, and Surgical Intensive Care, University Hospitals, Geneva, Switzerland

Members of the Swiss ICU Network are listed in the Acknowledgments

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Heidegger, CP., Treggiari, M.M., Romand, JA. et al. A nationwide survey of intensive care unit discharge practices. Intensive Care Med 31, 1676–1682 (2005).

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