Ventilator Blues

Patients face serious obstacles after prolonged ventilation

Growing numbers of critically ill patients spend prolonged periods of time on ventilators, but little is known about what happens to them after they leave the intensive-care unit. A new study by Duke researchers provides some insight, pointing to the need for changes in the way that doctors and patients’ families approach certain cases of end-of-life care.

Patients who spent an average of three to four weeks on a ventilator and survived faced severe difficulties in the year after being discharged, the study found. During that time, patients moved between outpatient-care facilities such as nursing homes and rehabilitation centers and the hospital an average of four times. Less than 10 percent were able to regain basic functioning like being able to dress or eat without assistance.

Researchers also found that it cost an estimated $3.5 million to care for a patient who survived and was able to function on his own a year after being on a ventilator for a prolonged period.

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