Going back to the ward—transitioning care back to the ward team
Transition of care from the intensive care unit (ICU) to the ward is usually an indication of the patient’s improving clinical status, but is also a time when patients are particularly vulnerable. The transition between care teams poses a higher risk of medical error, which can be mitigated by safe and complete patient handoff and medication reconciliation. ICU readmissions are associated with increased mortality as well as ICU and hospital length of stay (LOS); however tools to accurately predict ICU readmission risk are limited. While there are many mechanisms in place to carefully identify patients appropriate for transfer to the ward, the optimal timing of transfer can be affected by ICU strain, limited resources such as ICU beds, and overall hospital capacity and flow leading to suboptimal transfer times or delays in transfer. The patient and family perspectives should also be considered when planning for transfer from the ICU to the ward. During times of transition, families will meet a new care team, experience uncertainty of future care plans, and adjust to a different daily routine which can lead to increased stress and anxiety. Additionally, a subset of patients, such as those with new technology, require additional multidisciplinary support, education and care coordination which can contribute to longer hospital LOS if not addressed proactively early in the hospitalization while the patient remains in the ICU. In this review article, we describe key components of the transfer from ICU to the ward, discuss current strategies to optimize timing of patient transfers, explore strategies to partner with patients and families during the transfer process, highlight patient populations where additional considerations are needed, and identify future areas of exploration which could improve the care transition from the ICU to the ward.