Managing deteriorating patients with a physiotherapy critical care outreach service: A mixed-methods study

Published:March 24, 2022DOI:



      Critical care outreach teams support ward staff to manage patients who are seriously ill or after discharge from the intensive care unit (ICU). Respiratory deterioration is a common reason for (re)admission to the ICU. Physiotherapists are health professionals with skills to address acute respiratory concerns. Experienced respiratory physiotherapists play a role in supporting junior clinicians, particularly in managing deteriorating patients on the ward.


      The objective of this study was to evaluate a novel respiratory physiotherapy critical care outreach–style service. The primary objective was to describe service referrals and the patient cohort. Other objectives were to compare the effects of this model of care on ICU readmission rates to a historical cohort and explore clinician perceptions of the model of care and its implementation.


      A new physiotherapy model of care worked alongside an existing nurse-led outreach service to support physiotherapists with the identification and management of patients at risk of respiratory deterioration or ICU (re)admission. Purpose-built and pre-existing databases were used for prospective data collection and for a historical ICU readmissions control group. Questionnaires and semistructured group interviews were utilised to evaluate clinician satisfaction and perceptions.


      The service accepted referrals for 274 patients in 6 months (on average 2.25/working day; commonly after trauma [29%] and abdominal surgery [19%]). During the implementation period of the model of care, fewer preventable respiratory ICU readmissions were reported (n = 1/20) than in the historical cohort (n = 6/19: Fisher's exact test, p < 0.05). Likelihood of respiratory ICU readmission, compared to all-cause readmissions, was not affected (intervention: 31%, historical control: 41%; odds ratio: 0.63 [95% confidence interval: 0.29 to 1.4]). Postimplementation surveys and focus groups revealed clinicians highly valued the support and perceived a positive impact on patient care.


      Critical care outreach–style physiotherapy services can be successfully implemented and are positively perceived by clinicians, but any effect on ICU readmissions is unclear.


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