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Critical Care in the Emergency Department: An assessment of the length of stay and invasive procedures performed on critically ill ED patients

Robert S Green12* and Janet K MacIntyre1

  • * Corresponding author: Robert S Green

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Emergency Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

2 Department of Medicine, Division of Critical Care Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

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Scandinavian Journal of Trauma, Resuscitation and Emergency Medicine 2009, 17:47  doi:10.1186/1757-7241-17-47

Published: 24 September 2009



Critically ill patients commonly present to the ED and require aggressive resuscitation. Patient transfer to an ICU environment in an expedient manner is considered optimal care. However, this patient population may remain in the ED for prolonged periods of time. The goal of this study is to describe the ED length of stay, and the invasive procedures performed in critically ill ED patients.


This is a retrospective medical record review of all patients who presented to the study center over a 1 year period. Patient demographic data, in addition to the times of ED presentation and ICU admission were recorded. Invasive procedures performed in the pre-hospital, ED and the initial 24 hours of ICU care were also recorded.


Overall, 178 patients' required direct admission to an ICU from the ED, with a mortality rate of 21.9%. The median LOS in the ED for critically ill patients requiring ICU admission was 4.9 h (mean 6.5 h, range 1.4-28.2 h). Seventy percent of patients (125,178, 70.2%) required endotracheal intubation with the majority (118/125, 94.4%) being performed in the ED (80/125, 64.0%) or the prehospital setting (38/125, 30.4%). Central venous access was obtained in 56/178 patients (31.5%), with 17.9% (10/56) completed in the ED. Similarly, arterial catheters were inserted in 99/178 patients (55.6%) with 14.1% (14/99) inserted in the ED.


Critically ill patients are managed in the emergency department for a significant length of time. Although the majority of airway intervention occurs in the prehospital setting and ED, relatively few patients undergo invasive procedures while in the emergency department.