Understanding and Improving Life After Life-threatening Illness


The Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is an important part of the hospital which is designed to care for the medical needs of critically ill patients. The advanced medical care provided in the ICU helps most patients survive very serious or life-threatening illness. This care often involves many procedures, machines, and medications. Some help fight infection; others support breathing, blood pressure, kidney and other organ function.

For both our patients and their family members, a stay in the ICU can involve an unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and a highly stressful environment. The ICU team, which includes physicians, nurses, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, physical and occupational therapists, social work, dieticians and pastoral care, also tries to focus on providing care and comfort to our patients and their family members during this stressful situation.

Despite surviving an acute illness and leaving the ICU, patients may be left with physical health and mental health consequences that last months to years after they are discharged. The medical community recognizes this as Post-Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS). PICS can affect day-to-day functioning, ability to return to work, physical strength, cognitive problems such as trouble with thinking or memory, and mental health problems such as the symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of these mental health symptoms can affect not only patients, but also their family members.

These effects may require extended time off from work, and be associated with significant financial and emotional burden. We do not know yet how to completely predict who will be affected by PICS among patients, but it seems that early interventions like early mobilization (physical therapy), might help to reduce PICS symptoms after ICU discharge.

The Center for Humanizing Critical Care at Intermountain Medical Center focuses on delivering the highest quality of medical care as well as facilitating an ICU experience where patients and families feel cared for, respected, safe and understood.

Through our research programs, we hope to develop and improve existing systems to encourage open communication between ICU staff, patients and their families. We also hope to improve short- and long-term outcomes for patients and their families. Currently, we are conducting research that might help identify who is at risk for PICS, and what we might be able to do to prevent this outcome. We are grateful for the support of those who have been a part of this work, especially our patients and their family members.  We appreciate continual feedback from our current and past patients, as well as their family members, regarding how we can better achieve our goal of humanizing critical care.

Additional online resources for patients and family members:

Intensive Care Unit:

  • Outcomes after Critical Illness
  • My ICU Care is run by a nonprofit group of critical care doctors, nurses, and other caregivers who work together all over the world and are known as the Society of Critical Care Medicine.
  • ICU Steps has information about the critical care setting, the caregivers involved, and what options you have. Developed in Great Britain by the National Health Service.  It has good information about intensive care for families, friends and caregivers.


  • ICU Delirium is a good resource to help you understand delirium (confusion) in the intensive care patient