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Critical Care Awareness Month Focuses on Those Who Treat Seriously Ill Patients

May 04, 2010

Multidisciplinary Team Approach Saves Lives

At some point in their lives, nearly 80 percent of all Americans will suffer from a life-threatening illness or injury, or know someone who has, according to the Society of Critical Care Medicine. Every day thousands of people face critical conditions that put their lives at risk. It could be due to medical issues like cancer, heart attack or stroke, or accidents like car crashes or serious falls.

Critical care patients generally require intensive care over a period of hours, days and even weeks. While many of these patients enter through the emergency room, they end up in the intensive care unit (ICU).

This intensive care requires a team of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals who are specially trained to treat the most serious illnesses and injuries. This team of specialists practices what is termed critical care medicine.

"During Critical Care Awareness Month in May, we recognize these devoted professionals whose compassion and dedication to the care of critically ill patients is making a difference in the lives of patients and their families," said Dr. Carmen Agcaoili, who is a critical care pulmonologist and the medical director of the Intensivist Program at Washington Hospital. "We work as team to give our patients the best care possible."

Intensivists are physicians who direct and provide medical care in the hospital’s ICU, where critically ill patients are treated. These intensivists work with attending physicians and other hospital staff such as critical care nurses; pharmacists; respiratory therapists; dieticians; physical, occupational and speech therapists; social workers and case managers; as well as those who provide spiritual care.

Washington Hospital will hold a number of educational and recognition events during May that focus on raising awareness about critical care issues. For example, medical staff and other health professionals will hear talks from well-known experts in the field, including Dr. Jose Maldonado of Stanford University School of Medicine and Dr. Brad Spellberg from Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. A celebration is planned for May 12 where staff will be recognized.

Team Work

"Critical care medicine requires a dedicated team of professionals who are willing to pitch in at a moment’s notice and work together," Agcaoili said. "Celebrating Critical Care Awareness Month helps to build team spirit and improve the cohesiveness of our team, which greatly benefits our patients and their families."

A study published in the February 22 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine found that patients fair much better in hospitals that use the same approach to critical care medicine as Washington Hospital. The study analyzed data from 107,000 patients admitted to intensive care units at 112 hospitals between 2004 and 2006. The death rate among patients was lowest at hospitals with a multidisciplinary care team and a trained intensivist.

At Washington Hospital, there is always an intensivist in the ICU. "Critically ill patients need intensive care at all hours of the day and night," Agcaoili said.

Working with the families and loved ones of critically ill patients is a big part of critical care medicine. Washington Hospital’s Family Assistance Program focuses on the family’s needs.

"We deal with a lot of families in pain," said critical care nurse Cindy Wojdon, R.N., who co-chairs the Family Assistance Program with Agcaoili. "The patients we serve are very sick. We witness a lot of tragic events and families need help getting through it."

Agcaoili agreed, "Family members are under a lot of stress, which makes it harder for them to make informed decisions. It’s important to keep them informed and make sure they understand all their options."

Critical care medicine can be very demanding and stressful because the patients are so severely ill or injured. Conditions can change at a moment’s notice, requiring lifesaving measures.

"It’s a very quick pace and you have to know what you are doing," Wojdon said. "It’s a real team effort. Everyone pulls together to provide the best care for our patients. It can be hectic, but it’s also rewarding. I feel like I’m making a difference in someone’s life every day."

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