Improving Patient Care in Hospital Intensive Care Units

Humanizing-Intensive-Care-Unit-ICU

Intermountain Medical Center critical care physician-researcher, Samuel M. Brown, MD MS, is in the midst of a research initiative to identify how clinicians can improve the way care is delivered in hospital intensive care units, or ICUs.

Dr. Brown said the research is driven by the reality that many patients survive life-threatening illnesses and injuries treated in the ICU but then suffer significant psychological distress, including post-traumatic stress disorder, some of which relates to the way intensive care is delivered. Similar emotional distress often affects family members as well as patients.

“The technologies of intensive care in this country have advanced to an astonishing level, in terms of what we can do to treat people with life-threatening illnesses or injuries,” said Dr. Brown. “We’ve developed powerful medications, life support technologies, surgical techniques, and organizational principles that routinely save people who would’ve died of their illnesses just a few years ago. But we haven’t done a good job in figuring out how to make the ICUs more humane places, where dignity is preserved and patients and their families can feel more in control of what is happening to them during a frightening period in their lives.”

Dr. Brown, director of the Center for Humanizing Critical Care at Intermountain Healthcare, is involved in a number of research studies aimed at making medical care of acute life-threatening illness and injury more humane and patient-centered.

In various collaborations and initiatives, Center researchers are working to understand differences in how people process stressful situations like an ICU admission, how to fix advance directives (“living wills”) to make them useful in real situations, how to help people recover strength, mental and psychological health after an ICU admission and how to help people process the decisions that arise during the course of an ICU stay.

Dr. Brown recently signed a contract with Oxford University Press for a book outlining his vision for the ICU of the future. “We have an incredible opportunity to re-shape the way intensive care is delivered at Intermountain and across the country,” he said. “I hope this book will foster conversations that will dramatically advance that change."

In his own words, Dr Brown explains his inspiration and thoughts on why humanizing the ICU is important for patient-centered care across the nation.