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Physicians specializing in intensive care, known as intensivists, could save thousands of lives each year if only hospitals would hire more of them for intensive care units (ICUs), according to a presentation at the recent meeting of the Society of Critical Care Medicine in San Francisco.
John Hoyt, MD, an intensivist at St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh and chair of the new foundation, announced the group would be spearheading an effort to change the way ICUs are organized. Only one out of seven of the 5,000 ICUs in the United States are led by an intensivist, he says.
Intensivists gained more attention when the Leapfrog Group, a California consortium of health care purchasers, called for more of them as a way to improve patient safety. The Leapfrog Group has estimated that some 58,000 lives could be saved annually by staffing ICUs with specialists, computerizing the filling of prescriptions and referring complex operations to high-volume medical centers.
Most hospitals, 85%, employ a full-time intensive care nurse to run the unit, he says, with physicians in each specialty treating individual patients. But Hoyt says recent studies indicate patient care can be improved by employing a specialized intensive care team led by a full-time physician, and including a dedicated intensive care nurse, pharmacist, and respiratory therapist. That dedicated team also can reduce errors and decrease deaths, he says.
Hoyt says the group wants to increase the number of ICUs led by an intensivist to 50% in the next five years. The group plans to raise $1.5 million to educate the public about the need for intensivists, conduct research into the improved safety of having an intensive care team, and convince medical professionals to train for this specialty.