To examine whether and how step-down unit admission after ICU discharge affects patient outcomes.
Retrospective study using an instrumental variable approach to remove potential biases from unobserved differences in illness severity for patients admitted to the step-down unit after ICU discharge.
Ten hospitals in an integrated healthcare delivery system in Northern California.
Eleven-thousand fifty-eight episodes involving patients who were admitted via emergency departments to a medical service from July 2010 to June 2011, were admitted to the ICU at least once during their hospitalization, and were discharged from the ICU to the step-down unit or the ward.
Measurements and Main Results:
Using congestion in the step-down unit as an instrumental variable, we quantified the impact of step-down unit care in terms of clinical and operational outcomes. On average, for ICU patients with lower illness severity, we found that availability of step-down unit care was associated with an absolute decrease in the likelihood of hospital readmission within 30 days of 3.9% (95% CI, 3.6–4.1%). We did not find statistically significant effects on other outcomes. For ICU patients with higher illness severity, we found that availability of step-down unit care was associated with an absolute decrease in in-hospital mortality of 2.5% (95% CI, 2.3–2.6%), a decrease in remaining hospital length-of-stay of 1.1 days (95% CI, 1.0–1.2 d), and a decrease in the likelihood of ICU readmission within 5 days of 3.6% (95% CI, 3.3–3.8%).
This study shows that there exists a subset of patients discharged from the ICU who may benefit from care in an step-down unit relative to that in the ward. We found that step-down unit care was associated with statistically significant improvements in patient outcomes especially for high-risk patients. Our results suggest that step-down units can provide effective transitional care for ICU patients.