An emergency department-based ICU improves survival without raising costs

In the study, cost per visit for critically ill patients decreased by more than 20%.

11:00 AM

Author | Noah Fromson

hospital bed in in critical care room
A room in the EC3 at Michigan Medicine.

Across the country, many intensive care units are strained for capacity. This prolongs the boarding process in the emergency department, when critically ill patients – for whom every minute and hour is crucial – wait for open ICU beds.

To provide more rapid access to critical care, University of Michigan Health opened its Emergency Critical Care Center in 2015, one of the first ICUs in the country to be housed within an emergency department.

A previous study found that the deployment of this model improved quality of care and patient outcomes by decreasing both mortality rates and ICU admission rates for emergency department patients. And according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open, the ED-based ICU model does so without raising costs.

In a follow-up study, researchers at Michigan Medicine analyzed over 230,000 adult emergency department visits between September 2012 and late April 2017, comparing costs from before and after the Emergency Critical Care Center opened in mid-2015. Results reveal that direct total cost per visit, when adjusting for inflation, held flat after implementation of the ED-ICU model.

Like Podcasts? Add the Michigan Medicine News Break on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

"For all patients visiting the emergency department, from those with ankle sprains to those with critical illness, we are seeing similar costs per visit with better clinical outcomes – which equates to higher value by utilizing the ED-ICU model," said Benjamin Bassin, M.D., first author of the paper and director of the Emergency Critical Care Center, or EC3, at U-M Health.

Combining the evidence of improved quality with no increase in overall cost defines the positive health care value of the ED-ICU model.
Robert Neumar, M.D., Ph.D.

When examining solely critically ill ED patients, researchers found total direct cost per encounter decreased by 22.1% with implementation of the ED-ICU. The reduced costs, researchers say, are likely due to early, coordinated critical care delivered in the ED-ICU, rather than when an ICU bed became available.

"Previous studies have shown the boarding process of waiting in the ED for an inpatient ICU bed to become available is associated with lower survival rates for critically ill patients across disease states," said Nathan Haas, M.D., co-author of the paper and assistant medical director of U-M Health's EC3.

"Providing high-quality critical care to patients earlier via an ED-ICU can likely slow progression of disease severity and prevent complications that would occur during the ED boarding process, resulting in both improved downstream outcomes and overall cost reductions."

SEE ALSO: Emergency Medicine: Department-Based Intensive Care Unit Improves Patient Survival Rates

Since the implementation of EC3 in 2015, leaders at U-M Health collaborated with over 15 health systems in the U.S. and seven internationally that have sought to establish similar ED-ICU models. Researchers believe the findings of cost neutrality will lead to many more hospitals embracing the concept.

"We have been contacted by many hospitals both nationally and internationally considering this model based on the improved patient outcomes reported in our previous study," said Robert Neumar, M.D., Ph.D., senior author of the paper and chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at U-M Health. "Combining the evidence of improved quality with no increase in overall cost defines the positive health care value of the ED-ICU model. As a result, we anticipate health systems across the country will have increased interest in adopting the model."

The Emergency Critical Care Center at U-M Health was made possible by a gift from the Joyce and Don Massey Family Foundation

Additional authors include Nana Sefa, M.D., M.P.H., Richard Medlin, M.D., Timothy A. Peterson, M.D., M.B.A., Kyle Gunnerson, M.D., Steve Maxwell, M.B.A., James A. Cranford, Ph.D., Stephanie Laurinec, B.S., Christine Olis, M.B.A., Renee Havey, D.N.P., Robert Loof, M.H.A., all of Michigan Medicine

Bassin reported receiving salary support from the Joyce and Don Massey Family Foundation during the conduct of the study. No other disclosures were reported.

Paper cited: "Cost Effectiveness of an Emergency Department Based Intensive Care Unit," JAMA Network Open. DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.33649


Live your healthiest life: Get tips from top experts weekly. Subscribe to the Michigan Health blog newsletter

Headlines from the frontlines: The power of scientific discovery harnessed and delivered to your inbox every week. Subscribe to the Michigan Health Lab blog newsletter

More Articles About: Lab Report Emergency & Trauma Care Health Care Delivery, Policy and Economics Health Care Quality Hospitals & Centers
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

Explore a variety of healthcare news & stories by visiting the Health Lab home page for more articles.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine

[email protected]


Stay Informed

Want top health & research news weekly? Sign up for Health Lab’s newsletters today!

Featured News & Stories hands in red bag with medication naloxone
Health Lab
Less than 10% of opioid overdose patients are prescribed potentially lifesaving medications after emergency treatment 
Prescriptions written in the ER or at follow-up clinic visits could rescue patients during future overdoses and treat opioid addiction.  
Illustration of prescription bottle with a refill notice
Health Lab
In drive to deprescribe, heartburn drug study teaches key lessons
An effort to reduce use of PPI heartburn drugs in veterans because of overuse, cost and potential risks succeeded, but provides lessons about deprescribing efforts.
Exterior photograph of an urgent care clinic
Health Lab
Thinking outside the doctor’s office: How older adults use urgent care & in-store clinics
In the past two years, 60% of people age 50 to 80 have visited an urgent care clinic, or a clinic based in a retail store, workplace or vehicle, according to new findings from the University of Michigan National Poll on Healthy Aging.
Illustration of hand holding a smartphone with green background
Health Lab
Medicare pays for message-based e-visits. Are older adults using them?
Telehealth study of patient portal e-visits by Medicare participants shows few had an interaction for which their provider billed them.
Health Lab
How to protect your eyes during the total solar eclipse
A Michigan Medicine ophthalmologist and retinal surgeon shares advice for viewing the total solar eclipse safely, including what to look for in eye protection.
heart organ yellow blue
Health Lab
Around 10% of deaths from coronary stenting, balloon angioplasty are preventable
Around 10% of all deaths following percutaneous coronary intervention are potentially preventable, a study led by Michigan Medicine finds.