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Direct Observation of Bed Utilization in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit

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BACKGROUND: The pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), with limited number of beds and resource-intensive services, is a key component of patient flow. Because the PICU is a crossroads for many patients, transfer or discharge delays can negatively impact a patient's clinical status and efficiency.

OBJECTIVE: The objective of this study was to describe, using direct observation, PICU bed utilization.

METHODS: We conducted a real-time, prospective observational study in a convenience sample of days in the PICU of an urban, tertiary-care children's hospital.

RESULTS: Among 824 observed hours, 19,887 bed-hours were recorded, with 82% being for critical care services and 18% for non-critical care services. Fourteen activities accounted for 95% of bed-hours. Among 200 hours when the PICU was at full capacity, 75% of the time included at least 1 bed that was used for non-critical care services; 37% of the time at least 2 beds. The mean waiting time for a floor bed assignment was 9 hours (median, 5.5 hours) and accounted for 4.62% of all bed-hours observed.

CONCLUSIONS: The PICU delivered critical care services most of the time, but periods of non-critical care services represented a significant amount of time. In particular, periods with no bed available for new patients were associated with at least 1 or more PICU beds being used for non-critical care activities. The method should be reproducible in other settings to learn more about the structure and processes of care and patient flow and to make improvements.


Fieldston ES, Li J, Terwiesch C, Helfaer MA, Verger J, Pati S, Surrey D, Patel K, Ebberson JL, Lin R, Metlay JP