Interventions to improve patient admission and discharge practices in adult intensive care units: A systematic review

Frances Fengzhi Lin, Yingyan Chen, Megan Rattray, Lauren Murray, Kylie Jacobs, Jane Brailsford, Patricia Free, Peter Garrett, Alexis Tabah, Mahesh Ramanan

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Objectives: To identify and synthesise interventions and implementation strategies to optimise patient flow, addressing admission delays, discharge delays, and after-hours discharges in adult intensive care units. 

Methods: This systematic review followed the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) reporting guidelines. Five electronic databases, including CINAHL, PubMed, Emcare, Scopus, and the Cochrane Library, were searched from 2007 to 2023 to identify articles describing interventions to enhance patient flow practices in adult intensive care units. The Critical Appraisal Skills Program (CASP) tool assessed the methodological quality of the included studies. All data was synthesised using a narrative approach. 

Setting.: Adult intensive care units. 

Results: Eight studies met the inclusion criteria, mainly comprising quality improvement projects (n = 3) or before-and-after studies (n = 4). Intervention types included changing workflow processes, introducing decision support tools, publishing quality indicator data, utilising outreach nursing services, and promoting multidisciplinary communication. Various implementation strategies were used, including one-on-one training, in-person knowledge transfer, digital communication, and digital data synthesis and display. Most studies (n = 6) reported a significant improvement in at least one intensive care process-related outcome, although fewer studies specifically reported improvements in admission delays (0/0), discharge delays (1/2), and after-hours discharge (2/4). Two out of six studies reported significant improvements in patient-related outcomes after implementing the intervention. 

Conclusion: Organisational-level strategies, such as protocols and alert systems, were frequently employed to improve patient flow within ICUs, while healthcare professional-level strategies to enhance communication were less commonly used. While most studies improved ICU processes, only half succeeded in significantly reducing discharge delays and/or after-hours discharges, and only a third reported improved patient outcomes, highlighting the need for more effective interventions. 

Implications for clinical practice: The findings of this review can guide the development of evidence-based, targeted, and tailored interventions aimed at improving patient and organisational outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103688
Number of pages10
JournalIntensive and Critical Care Nursing
Early online date16 Mar 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Mar 2024


  • Patient management
  • Admissions
  • Discharge
  • Intensive care units
  • Protocols


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