ICU admissions at U.S. hospitals increased by 50% from 2002 to 2009, while overall ED admissions increased by only 5.8%, according to a study in Academic Emergency Medicine.
Researchers led by Peter Mullins of George Washington University's School of Public Health and Health Services found that ICU admissions jumped from 2.79 million in 2002-2003 to 4.14 million in 2008-2009, according to data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Care Survey.
The most common reasons for ICU admissions were symptoms like chest pain and shortness of breath, which can precede potentially fatal conditions like heart attacks. However, the reason for the major increase in ICU admissions remains unclear, the researchers say.
In addition, the researchers observed a spike in the utilization of tests and services by ED patients. Specifically, the number of CT scans and MRIs provided while still in the ED increased from 16.8% to 37.4% over the study period.
In a statement, Mullins said, "These findings suggested emergency physicians were sending more patients on to the ICU," adding, "The increase might be the result of an older, sicker population that needs more care."
The study also raises the question of whether there will be enough ICU capacity to accommodate the increased demand from the nation's rapidly aging patient population, the authors note (UPI, 5/15).