Most US hospitals fail to staff ICUs appropriately, Leapfrog survey finds

An analysis of the Leapfrog Hospital Survey conducted by Castlight Health found the majority of hospitals fail to staff intensive care units with the recommended number of intensivists, though studies have shown this practice can increase patient survival by 40 percent.

Just 47 percent of reporting hospitals met Leapfrog's recommended intensivist coverage of having one or more board-certified intensivists on staff, exclusively providing care in the ICU, available eight hours per day, seven days a week, and for intensivists to return calls within five minutes 95 percent of the time.

The analysis found staffing standards vary widely from state to state. Arizona came out on top regarding ICU staffing with 87 percent of the state's hospitals meeting Leapfrog's standards. Six other states had an overall compliance rate of at least 60 percent, while 10 states had overall rates less than 30 percent. No state's overall rate of hospital adherence to recommended ICU staffing was more than 90 percent.

The survey analysis did reveal that the percentage of hospitals staffing the ICU per Leapfrog's standards is trending upward. In 2007, just 37 percent of hospitals participating in the survey were found to meet ICU staffing recommendations. For 2015, 47 percent of participating hospitals were found to appropriately staff ICUs with intensivists.

However, many hospitals declined to report on ICU staffing, suggesting the need for increased transparency.

"Having an intensivist present in the ICU saves lives, period," said Leah Binder, president and CEO of Leapfrog. "Patients and families should be on high alert if their hospital lacks this essential coverage. Moreover, if their hospital has declined to report at all, the public has no way of knowing about how the ICU is staffed. Patients who find that their hospital did not respond to the Leapfrog Hospital Survey should send a note to hospital administrators explaining why they want this information and expect full transparency."

See the survey results here.

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