Assessing the effectiveness of critical pathways on reducing resource utilization in the surgical intensive care unit

Sean Berenholtz, Peter Pronovost, Pamela Lipsett, Patty Dawson, Todd Dorman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of procedure-specific surgical critical pathways on reducing resource utilization in a university surgical intensive care unit (ICU). Design and setting: Prospective cohort study in a university surgical ICU. Patients: 194 patients, accounting for 255 patient days, sampled on randomly selected days over a 12-month period of time. Measurements and results: The primary outcomes of this study were pathway eligibility and laboratory utilization. Patients were eligible for a procedure-specific pathway in 34% of patient days identified, and the patient's clinical course was "on" pathway in 22% of patient days. Of those "on" the pathway, 54% had a pathway present in the chart and 32% of these included documentation of the patient's clinical course. Thus in 78% of the patient days the patient was either not eligible for a critical pathway or the patient's clinical course was "off" pathway. In those patients "on" the pathway 46% did not have a pathway present in the chart. Being on a critical pathway did not reduce laboratory utilization. Laboratory utilization did not vary between patients "on" and "off" the pathway (19.1 ± 11.3 laboratory tests/patient day versus 20.4 ± 5.7 laboratory tests/patient day). Predicted laboratory utilization by the pathway was 5.6 laboratory tests/patient day. By reducing actual laboratory utilization to that predicted by the critical pathway we would reduce laboratory utilization at our institution by $1.2 million per year. Conclusions: Procedure-specific surgical critical pathways are not an effective tool for reducing resource utilization in our ICU. Most of our patients were not eligible for an available pathway, and those who were eligible and were "on" the pathway did not appear to have laboratory utilization guided by the pathway. Future initiatives need to explore other means such as ICU-specific care processes to reduce resource utilization in the ICU.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1029-1036
Number of pages8
JournalIntensive Care Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001


  • Critical illness
  • Critical pathways/utilization
  • Intensive care
  • Laboratory/utilization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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