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  • Effective preventive health care interventions based on evidence from rigorous randomized trials are increasing.
  • Nonetheless, preventive strategies are applied suboptimally in many settings, particularly in the intensive care unit (ICU).
  • Potential reasons such strategies are not more broadly employed include clinician habit, lack of awareness of (or resistance to) new information, reliance on physiologic outcomes rather than on clinically important outcomes when interpreting evidence, and lack of self-efficacy of physicians who question whether the benefits observed in the research setting will be realized in the practice setting.
  • Another important, but underappreciated, reason for insufficient or delayed uptake of effective preventive strategies is the absence of reinforcements for preventive behavior in general.
  • A working environment that facilitates the implementation of preventive strategies is a powerful facilitator of change. A crucial first step in trying to improve preventive care in the ICU is to do an environmental scan to understand the practice of the unit and to characterize the culture of the unit.
  • The most effective strategies to implement behavioral change are interactive education rather than passive education, audit and feedback, reminders (manual or computerized), and involvement of local opinion leaders.


Effective preventive health care interventions based on evidence from rigorous randomized trials are increasing. Application of such randomized trial evidence in practice has great potential to decrease the morbidity and mortality rates of inpatients and outpatients. However, preventive strategies are applied suboptimally in many settings, particularly in the intensive care unit (ICU). This poses a serious problem because critically ill patients are at high risk of death not only from the condition that necessitated their admission to the ICU but also from the complications of critical illness.


Examples of well-documented underuse of interventions that have been demonstrated to decrease morbid complications of critical illness in randomized trials include prevention of venous thromboembolism,1 prevention of hyperglycemia,2 and prevention of pneumonia.3 Other interventions proved to prevent ICU mortality in patients with acute lung injury and sepsis such as lung protective ventilation strategies, use of corticosteroids, and activated protein C are also variably applied in practice, although mortality-reducing interventions are not the focus of this chapter.


In this chapter, we (a) present key clinical and behavioral issues relevant to preventive care for critically ill medical and surgical patients, (b) illustrate the gap between the evidence and its practical application, (c) underscore lost opportunities for prevention of morbidity by using several study designs, and (d) suggest strategies for improved analysis of, and increased attention to, prevention in the ICU.


The reasons clinicians fail to attend to prophylactic strategies supported by randomized trials may mirror those reasons that clinicians fail to apply valid evidence in practice, and the reasons that clinicians do not follow high-quality practice guidelines. Assuming that the evidentiary basis for the preventive strategy is valid and thus worth considering, there are many potential reasons for underuse of primary, secondary, or tertiary prevention, including clinician habit, ...

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