The critical care cascade: A systems approach

Rishi Ghosh, Paul Pepe

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


PURPOSE OF REVIEW: To emphasize the evolving body of evidence that supports the need for a more seamless and interconnected continuum of patient care for a growing compendium of critical care conditions, starting in the prehospital and emergency department (ED) phases of management and continuing through ICU and rehabilitation services. RECENT FINDINGS: The care of critically ill and injured patients has become increasingly complex. It now has been demonstrated that, for a number of such critical care conditions, optimal management not only relies heavily on the talents of highly coordinated, multidisciplinary teams, but it also may require shared responsibilities across a continuum of longitudinal care involving numerous specialties and departments. This continuum usually needs to begin in the prehospital and ED settings with management extending through specialized in-hospital diagnostic and interventional suites to traditional ICU and rehabilitation programs. In recent years, examples of these conditions have included the development of systems of care for trauma, cardiac arrest, myocardial infarction, stroke, sepsis syndromes, toxicology and other critical illnesses. Although the widespread implementation of such multidisciplinary, multispecialty critical care cascades of care has been achieved most commonly in trauma care, current healthcare delivery systems generally tend to employ compartmentalized organization for the majority of other critical care patients. Accordingly, optimal systematic care often breaks down in the management of these complex patients due to barriers such as lack of interoperable communication between teams, disjointed transfers between services, unnecessary time-consuming, re-evaluations and transitional pauses in time-dependent circumstances, deficiencies in cross-disciplinary education and quality assurance loops, and significant variability in patient care practices. Such barriers can lead to adverse outcomes in this fragile patient population. SUMMARY: This article discusses the basis and rationale for the 'critical care cascade' concept, which contends that the optimal management of critically ill patients should be a continuum of care through the healthcare system. In the critical care cascade, each patient is enrolled on a 'pathway' of management based on their working diagnosis and each and every healthcare provider engaged along that continuum acts as part of a interconnected coordinated team that ensures a specific endpoint for these patients in a bundled manner that seamlessly extends from the prehospital and ED phases to the ICU and rehabilitation services.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)279-283
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent opinion in critical care
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2009


  • Critical care cascade
  • Critical illness
  • Longitudinal care
  • Organization
  • Patient safety
  • Quality
  • Resuscitation
  • Systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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