Intensive care unit structure variation and implications for early mobilization practices: An international survey

RN Bakhru, DJ McWilliams, DJ Wiebe, VJ Spuhler, WD Schweickert

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96 Citations (Scopus)


Rationale: Early mobilization (EM) improves outcomes for mechanically ventilated patients. Variation in structure and organizational characteristicsmay affectimplementation of EM practices. Objectives: We queried intensive care unit (ICU) environment and standardized ICU practices to evaluate organizational characteristics that enable EM practice. Methods: We recruited 151 ICUs in France, 150 in Germany, 150 in the United Kingdom, and 500 in the United States by telephone. Survey domains included respondent characteristics, hospital and ICU characteristics, and ICU practices and protocols. Measurements and Main Results: We surveyed 1,484 ICU leaders and received a 64% response rate (951 ICUs). Eighty-eight percent of respondents were in nursing leadership roles; the remainder were physiotherapists. Surveyed ICUs were predominantly mixed medicalsurgical units (67%), and 27% were medical ICUs. ICU staffing models differed significantly (P , 0.001 each) by country for high-intensity staffing, nurse/patient ratios, and dedicated physiotherapists. ICU practices differed by country,with EM practices presentin 40% of French ICUs, 59% of German ICUs, 52% of U.K. ICUs, and 45% of U.S. ICUs. Formal written EM protocols were present in 24%, 30%, 20%, and 30%, respectively, of those countries’ ICUs. In multivariate analysis, EM practice was associated with multidisciplinary rounds (odds ratio [OR], 1.77; P = 0.001), setting daily goals for patients (OR, 1.62; P = 0.02), presence of a dedicated physiotherapist (OR, 2.48; P , 0.001), and the ICU’s being located in Germany (reference, United States; OR, 2.84; P , 0.001). EM practice was also associated with higher nurse staffing levels (1:1 nurse/patient ratio as a reference; 1:2 nurse/patient ratio OR, 0.59; P = 0.05; 1:3 nurse/patient ratio OR, 0.33; P = 0.005; 1:4 or less nurse/patient ratio OR, 0.37; P = 0.005). Those responding rarely cited ambulation of mechanically ventilated patients, use of a bedside cycle, or neuromuscular electrical stimulation as part of their EM practice. Physical therapy initiation, barriers to EM practice, and EM equipment were highly variable among respondents. Conclusions: International ICU structure and practice is quite heterogeneous, and several factors (multidisciplinary rounds, setting daily goals for patients, presence of a dedicated physiotherapist, country, and nurse/patient staffing ratio) are significantly associated with the practice of EM. Practice and barriers may be far different based upon staffing structure. To achieve successful implementation, whether through trials or quality improvement, ICU staffing and practice patterns must be taken into account.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1527-1537
Number of pages11
JournalAnnals of the American Thoracic Society
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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  • Critical care
  • physical therapy/physiotherapy
  • early mobilization
  • survey
  • intensive care unit


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