Background: Prompt recognition of the reversal of respiratory failure may permit earlier discontinuation of mechanical ventilation, without harm to the patient. Methods: We conducted a randomized, controlled trial in 300 adult patients receiving mechanical ventilation in medical and coronary intensive care units. In the intervention group, patients underwent daily screening of respiratory function by physicians, respiratory therapists, and nurses to identify those possibly capable of breathing spontaneously; successful tests were followed by two-hour trials of spontaneous breathing in those who met the criteria. Physicians were notified when their patients successfully completed the trials of spontaneous breathing. The control subjects had daily screening but no other interventions. In both groups, all clinical decisions, including the decision to discontinue mechanical ventilation, were made by the attending physicians. Results: Although the 149 patients randomly assigned to the intervention group had more severe disease, they received mechanical ventilation for a median of 4.5 days, as compared with 6 days in the 151 patients in the control group (P=0.003). The median interval between the time a patient met the screening criteria and the discontinuation of mechanical ventilation was one day in the intervention group and three days in the control group (P<0.001). Complications - removal of the breathing tube by the patient, reintubation, tracheostomy, and mechanical ventilation for more than 21 days - occurred in 20 percent of the intervention group and 41 percent of the control group (P=0.001). The number of days of intensive care and hospital care was similar in the two groups. Total costs for the intensive care unit were lower in the intervention group (median, $15,740, vs. $20,890 in the controls; P=0.03); hospital costs were lower, though not significantly so (median, $26,229 and $29,048, respectively; P=0.3). Conclusions: Daily screening of the respiratory function of adults receiving mechanical ventilation, followed by trials of spontaneous breathing in appropriate patients and notification of their physicians when the trials were successful, can reduce the duration of mechanical ventilation and the cost of intensive care and is associated with fewer complications than usual care.
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