Intensive care unit quality improvement: A “how-to” guide for the interdisciplinary team* Journal Articles uri icon

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  • OBJECTIVE: Quality improvement is an important activity for all members of the interdisciplinary critical care team. Although an increasing number of resources are available to guide clinicians, quality improvement activities can be overwhelming. Therefore, the Society of Critical Care Medicine charged this Outcomes Task Force with creating a "how-to" guide that focuses on critical care, summarizes key concepts, and outlines a practical approach to the development, implementation, evaluation, and maintenance of an interdisciplinary quality improvement program in the intensive care unit. DATA SOURCES AND METHODS: The task force met in person twice and by conference call twice to write this document. We also conducted a literature search on "quality improvement" and "critical care or intensive care" and searched online for additional resources. DATA SYNTHESIS AND OVERVIEW: We present an overview of quality improvement in the intensive care unit setting and then describe the following steps for initiating or improving an interdisciplinary critical care quality improvement program: a) identify local motivation, support teamwork, and develop strong leadership; b) prioritize potential projects and choose the first target; c) operationalize the measures, build support for the project, and develop a business plan; d) perform an environmental scan to better understand the problem, potential barriers, opportunities, and resources for the project; e) create a data collection system that accurately measures baseline performance and future improvements; f) create a data reporting system that allows clinicians and others to understand the problem; g) introduce effective strategies to change clinician behavior. In addition, we identify four steps for evaluating and maintaining this program: a) determine whether the target is changing with periodic data collection; b) modify behavior change strategies to improve or sustain improvements; c) focus on interdisciplinary collaboration; and d) develop and sustain support from the hospital leadership. We also identify a number of online resources to complement this overview. CONCLUSIONS: This Society of Critical Care Medicine Task Force report provides an overview for clinicians interested in developing or improving a quality improvement program using a step-wise approach. Success depends not only on committed interdisciplinary work that is incremental and continuous but also on strong leadership. Further research is needed to refine the methods and identify the most cost-effective means of improving the quality of health care received by critically ill patients and their families.


  • Curtis, J Randall
  • Cook, Deborah
  • Wall, Richard J
  • Angus, Derek C
  • Bion, Julian
  • Kacmarek, Robert
  • Kane-Gill, Sandra L
  • Kirchhoff, Karin T
  • Levy, Mitchell
  • Mitchell, Pamela H
  • Moreno, Rui
  • Pronovost, Peter
  • Puntillo, Kathleen

publication date

  • January 2006

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