BACKGROUND: In this prespecified cohort study, we investigated the influence of postoperative admission to the intensive care unit versus surgical ward on health care utilization among patients undergoing intermediate-risk surgery.
METHODS: Of adult surgical patients who underwent general anesthesia without an absolute indication for postoperative intensive care unit admission, 3530 patients admitted postoperatively to an intensive care unit were matched to 3530 patients admitted postoperatively to a surgical ward using a propensity score based on 23 important preoperative and intraoperative predictor variables. Postoperative hospital length of stay and hospital costs were defined as primary and secondary end points, respectively.
RESULTS: Among patients with low propensity for postoperative intensive care unit admission, initial triage to an intensive care unit was associated with increased postoperative length of stay (incidence rate ratio, 1.69 [95% CI, 1.59–1.79]; P < .001) and hospital costs (incidence rate ratio, 1.92 [95% CI, 1.81–2.03]; P < .001). By contrast, postoperative intensive care unit admission of patients with high propensity was associated with decreased postoperative length of stay (incidence rate ratio, 0.90 [95% CI, 0.85–0.95]; P < .001) and costs (incidence rate ratio, 0.92 [95% CI, 0.88–0.97]; P = .001). Decisions regarding postoperative intensive care unit resource utilization were influenced by individual preferences of anesthesiologists and surgeons.
CONCLUSIONS: In patients with an unclear indication for postoperative critical care, intensive care unit admission may negatively impact postoperative hospital length of stay and costs. Postoperative discharge disposition varies substantially based on anesthesia and surgical provider preferences but should optimally be driven by an objective assessment of a patient’s status at the end of surgery.