(HealthDay News) — Futile care, which is used to prolong life without achieving a meaningful benefit for the patient, can cause delays in care for other patients waiting to be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), according to a study published in the September issue of Critical Care Medicine.

Thanh N. Huynh, MD, from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles, and colleagues examined delays for patients waiting for ICU admission while the ICU was full and contained at least one patient receiving futile treatment. Data were collected for 36 critical care specialists in five ICUs in one heath system for three months.

The researchers identified 6,916 assessments on 1,136 patients during the three-month period. Of these patients, 123 were receiving futile treatment. Compared with an ICU with available beds, a full ICU was less likely to contain patients receiving futile treatment (38 versus 68 percent; P< 0.001). On 16% of days (72 days), at least one patient was receiving futile treatment in a full ICU. During these days, 33 patients waited in the emergency department for more than four hours after ICU admission; nine patients waited more than one day for transfer from an outside hospital; and after waiting more than one day, 15 patients cancelled the transfer request. While waiting to be transferred, two patients died.

“Futile critical care was associated with delays in care to other patients,” the authors write.

One author disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

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