Overview of Intensive Care Units

Last updated: November 4, 2020

Many hospitals in the United States have an intensive or critical care unit, but they are not found worldwide, especially in developing nations. Many countries that would be considered lower to middle range income have started these units or are interested in providing this type of care to the people they serve. These departments care for critically ill patients resulting from many medical/surgical disorders or situations. The number of patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) is dependent on the number of available beds assigned to that department, and typically there would be a unit for adults including geriatrics, one for neonates, and one for pediatrics. Not all smaller hospitals will have a unit for neonates or pediatrics, which may require a transfer of the patient to a larger facility. The number of beds is traditionally lower than is seen in other departments, and the staff to patient ratio is much lower because of the higher acuity and needs of these patients (Marshall et al., 2017).

The medical care and nursing care in these units is more specialized, which allows for specialized monitoring and treatment options for patients that are suffering from organ dysfunction, which can result in multiple organ failure. Highly skilled life-saving care is required in these units as they are defined by the level of care provided. A level 1 ICU includes oxygen therapy, cardiac and vital sign monitoring, and more intensive nursing care in comparison to other floors. Level 2 ICUs offer a higher level of care, which may include invasive monitoring and basic life support for a short period. Finally, level 3 ICUs provide intensive, invasive monitoring and life support technology. They are typically found in larger metropolitan areas and are likely to support smaller nearby or regional hospitals, taking transfers from these hospitals to provide a higher level of care when needed. The type of patients that are cared for in an ICU varies but could include surgical patients, cardiac cases, respiratory disease, trauma victims, and many others (Marshall et al., 2017).