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Name of Media:

Implementing an intensive care unit (ICU) diary program at a large academic medical center: Results from a randomized control trial evaluating psychological morbidity associated with critical illness


Sayde, G. E., Stefanescu, A., Conrad, E., Nielsen, N., & Hammer, R.

Publisher or Source:

General Hospital Psychiatry

Type of Media:

Medical Journal

Media Originally for:

Critical Care Physicians, Nurses and/or Other Critical Care Medical Professionals

Country of Origin:

United States

Primary Focus of Media:

Post Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS)

COVID-19 Related:




Psychological morbidity in both patients and family members related to the intensive care unit (ICU) experience is an often overlooked, and potentially persistent, healthcare problem recognized by the Society of Critical Care Medicine as Post-intensive Care Syndrome (PICS). ICU diaries are an intervention increasingly under study with potential to mitigate ICU-related psychological morbidity, including ICU-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. As we encounter a growing number of ICU survivors, in particular in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, clinicians must be equipped to understand the severity and prevalence of significant psychiatric complications of critical illness.

We compared the efficacy of the ICU diary, written by family and healthcare workers during the patient's intensive care course, versus education alone in reducing acute PTSD symptoms after discharge. Patients with an ICU stay >72 h, who were intubated and mechanically ventilated over 24 h, were recruited and randomized to either receive a diary at bedside with psycho education or psycho education alone. Intervention patients received their ICU diary within the first week of admission into the intensive care unit. Psychological symptom screening with IES-R, PHQ-8, HADS and GAD-7 was conducted at baseline within 1 week of ICU discharge and at weeks 4, 12, and 24 after ICU discharge. Change from baseline in these scores was assessed using Wilcoxon rank sum tests.

From September 26, 2017 to September 25, 2018, our team screened 265 patients from the surgical and medical ICUs at a single large academic urban hospital. 60 patients were enrolled and randomized, of which 35 patients completed post-discharge follow-up, (n = 18) in the diary intervention group and (n = 17) in the education-only control group. The control group had a significantly greater decrease in PTSD, hyperarousal, and depression symptoms at week 4 compared to the intervention group. There were no significant differences in other measures, or at other follow-up intervals. Both study groups exhibited clinically significant PTSD symptoms at all timepoints after ICU discharge. Follow-up phone interviews with patients revealed that while many were interested in getting follow-up for their symptoms, there were many barriers to accessing appropriate therapy and clinical attention.

Results from psychological screening tools demonstrate no benefit of ICU diaries versus bedside education-alone in reducing PTSD symptoms related to the intensive care stay. However, our study finds an important gap in clinical practice – patients at high risk for PICS are infrequently connected to appropriate follow-up care. Perhaps ICU diaries would prove beneficial if utilized to support the work within a program providing wrap-around services and close psychiatric follow up for PICS patients. This study demonstrates the high prevalence of ICU-related PTSD in our cohort of survivors, the high barrier to accessing care for appropriate treatment of PICS, and the consequence of that barrier—prolonged psychological morbidity.

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