Critical Care Statistics

The Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) represents nearly 16,000 highly trained professionals in more than 100 countries who provide care in specialized units and work toward the best outcome possible for all critically ill and injured patients. The Society maintains that the Right Care, Right Now™ is best provided by an integrated team of dedicated experts directed by a trained and present physician credentialed in critical care medicine (an intensivist), also referred to as the multiprofessional team model. Care delivered by a multiprofessional team optimizes care for patients, improves conditions for healthcare providers, and boosts the financial performance of the hospital. This guide provides statistics on many of the current issues in critical care in the United States. It is intended to be used as a reference in efforts such as advocacy, public relations, and general education.

Cost Savings

Between 2000 and 2005, annual critical care medicine costs increased from $56.6 billion to $81.7 billion, representing 13.4% of hospital costs, 4.1% of national health expenditures, and 0.66% of gross domestic product. Cost savings of up to $1 billion per quality life year gained can be attained with critical care management of severe sepsis, acute respiratory failure, and general critical care interventions. Twenty-four–hour intensivist staffing reduces intensive care unit (ICU) costs and lengths of stay (LOS). Up to $13 million in annual hospital cost savings can be realized when care is delivered by an intensivist-directed multiprofessional team. The impact of this type of care is demonstrated by the example of a community hospital that achieved 105% return on investment by implementing mandatory intensivist consultation and admission standards, thereby reducing ICU lengths of stay, ventilator-associated events, and central venous access device infection rates. Hospitals without on-site intensivists may benefit from telemedicine ICU, in which sophisticated electronic systems connect ICU patient data to intensivists at remote locations. The intensivists provide real-time monitoring, diagnostic, and intervention services in conjunction with bedside staff. In selected settings, tele-ICU (or e-ICU) care has demonstrated shorter ICU lengths of stay and lower ICU mortality, which may translate into lower hospital costs and better use of resources.


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Critical Care Patients

More than 5.7 million patients are admitted annually to intensive care units (ICUs) in the United States (U.S.) for intensive or invasive monitoring; support of airway, breathing or circulation; stabilization of acute or life-threatening medical problems; comprehensive management of injury and/or illness; and restoration to stable health status or comfort while dying within an interdisciplinary and collaborative environment. Approximately 20% of acute care admissions are to an ICU; up to 58% of emergency department admissions result in an ICU admission. ICU patients are a heterogeneous population, but all share the need for frequent assessment and greater need for technological support compared to patients admitted to non-ICU beds.

Cardiac, respiratory and neurologic conditions are common in adult ICU patients. The five primary ICU admission diagnoses for adults are, in decreasing order: respiratory system diagnosis with ventilator support, acute myocardial infarction, intracranial hemorrhage or cerebral infarction, percutaneous cardiovascular procedure with drug-eluting stent, and septicemia or severe sepsis without mechanical ventilation. Other conditions and procedures involving high ICU use are poisoning and toxic effects of drugs, pulmonary edema and respiratory failure, heart failure and shock, cardiac arrhythmia and conduction disorders, renal failure with major complication or comorbidity, gastrointestinal hemorrhage with complication or comorbidity, and diabetes with complication or comorbidity. The most common technological support is mechanical ventilation, with 20-30% of U.S. ICU admissions requiring this type of intervention.

Patients admitted to the pediatric ICU (PICU) often have complex chronic conditions. Respiratory illnesses are the most common diagnoses. Trauma, post-surgical care, infection, and fluid and electrolyte derangements are also reported as frequent diagnoses in unplanned PICU admissions. Childhood-onset chronic conditions, including congenital heart abnormalities, cerebral palsy, and chromosomal abnormities, have been reported in 53% of children admitted to PICUs.

Patients admitted to the neonatal ICU (NICU) are generally preterm with very low birth weight (i.e., less than 1500 grams [3.3 pounds]); these two conditions account for 70-90% of NICU admissions. Common to neonates are diagnoses of respiratory illnesses and infections. As with adults, mechanical ventilation is a common technological support in both pediatric and neonatal patients.


  • Wunsch H, Angus DC, Harrison DA, Linde-Zwirble WT, Rowan KM. Comparison of medical admissions to intensive care units in the United States and United Kingdom. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2011 Jun 15;183(12):1666-1673.
  • Barrett ML, Smith MW, Elixhauser A, Honigman LS, Pines JM. Utilization of Intensive Care Services, 2011. Healthcare Cost and Ultization Project. 2014. Accessed December 10, 2015.
  • Wunsch H, Wagner J, Herlim M, Chong DH, Kramer AA, Halpern SD. ICU occupancy and mechanical ventilator use in the United States. Critical Care Med. 2013 Dec;41(12):2712-2719.
  • Edwards JD, Houtrow AJ, Vasilevskis EE, et al. Chronic conditions among children admitted to U.S. pediatric intensive care units: their prevalence and impact on risk for mortality and prolonged length of stay. Critical Care Med. 2012 Jul;40(7):2196-2203.
  • Krmpotic K, Lobos AT. Clinical profile of children requiring early unplanned admission to the PICU. Hosp Pediatr. 2013 Jul;3(3):212-218.
  • Harrison W, Goodman D. Epidemiologic trends in neonatal intensive care, 2007-2012. JAMA Pediatr. 2015 Sep;169(9):855-862.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Neonatal Intensive-Care Unit Admission of Infants with Very Low Birth Weight—19 States, 2006. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 12, 2010. Accessed December 10, 2015.
  • Pollack MM, Holubkov R, Funai T, et al. Pediatric intensive care outcomes: development of new morbidities during pediatric critical care. Pediatr Crit Care Med. 2014 Nov;15(9):821-827.

Intensive Care Unit Facilities

According to the American Hospital Association’s 2014 annual survey, the U.S. has 5,686 hospitals, down from 5,795 in 2009. These hospitals have a total of 914,513 staffed beds, down from 944,277 in 2009. All acute care hospitals have at least one intensive care unit (ICU), and approximately 55,000 critically ill patients are cared for each day. From 2006 to 2010, the number of critical care beds in the United States increased 15%, from 67,579 to 77,809. A minority of U.S. regions accounted for a majority of the growth during this period. Additionally, the United States has more than 400 pediatric ICUs, with approximately 4,044 beds, and more than 1,500 neonatal ICUs, with approximately 20,000 beds.


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  • Wallace DJ, Angus DC, Seymour CW, Barnato AE, Kahn JM. Critical care bed growth in the United States. A comparison of regional and national trends. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2015 Feb;191(4):410-416.

Length of Stay

Intensive care unit (ICU) length of stay (LOS) has been estimated at 3.8 days in the United States. However, it varies depending on patient and ICU attributes. Prolonged ICU stays are emotionally and financially burdensome to patients and families. Strategies for reducing ICU LOS are multifactorial, primarily focusing on improved quality of healthcare delivery. Adherence to Surviving Sepsis Campaign performance bundles, early patient mobilization, use of high-intensity ICU physician staffing, and enhanced staff and family communication all improve ICU LOS. In remote areas without direct access to intensivist coverage, ICU LOS can be reduced by the integration of telemedicine. Models for predicting ICU LOS in critically ill patient groups, such as Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation (APACHE) IV for adult patients and Pediatric Index of Mortality (PIM) and Pediatric Risk of Mortality (PRISM) for pediatric patients, can be useful in benchmarking.


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  • Kruklitis RJ, Tracy JA, McCambridge MM. Clinical and financial considerations for implementing an ICU telemedicine program. Chest. 2014 Jun;145(6):1392-1396.
  • Levy MM, Rhodes A, Phillips GS, et al. Surviving Sepsis Campaign: association between performance metrics and outcomes in a 7.5-year study. Crit Care Med. 2015 Jan;43(1):3-12.
  • Logani S, Green A, Gasperino J. Benefits of high-intensity intensive care unit physician staffing under the Affordable Care Act. Crit Care Res Prac. 2011;2011:170814.
  • Zimmerman JE, Kramer AA, McNair DS, Malila FM, Shaffer VL. Intensive care unit length of stay: benchmarking based on Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation (APACHE) IV. Crit Care Med. 2006 Oct;34(10):2517-2529.

Morbidity and Mortality

Although patients in intensive care units (ICUs) receive care for a large variety of disease states, the leading causes of death in the ICU are multi-organ failure, cardiovascular failure, and sepsis. Multi-organ failure has a mortality rate of up to 15-28% when more than one organ system fails, new-onset renal failure has a mortality rate of up to 61%, and severe respiratory failure has a mortality rate ranging from 20% to 50%. Sepsis, the second leading cause of death in non-coronary ICUs, has a mortality rate of up to 45%. Of patients who are diagnosed with sepsis, up to 51% develop acute renal failure, and up to 20% have acute respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilatory support. Overall, mortality rates in patients admitted to adult ICUs average 10% to 29%, depending on age and severity of illness. The mortality rate for patients who have been admitted to the ICU is greater for the next 10 years after they leave the ICU compared to patients of the same age who have never been admitted to the ICU. The pediatric mortality rate associated with sepsis is 25%, whereas the overall mortality rate for pediatric ICU patients ranges from 2% to 6%.


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  • Druml W, Lenz K, Laggner AN. Our paper 20 years later: from acute renal failure to acute kidney injury—the metamorphosis of a syndrome. Intensive Care Med. 2015 Nov;41(11):1941-1949.
  • Elias KM, Moromizato T, Gibbons FK, Christopher KB. Derivation and validation of the acute organ failure score to predict outcome in critically ill patients: a cohort study. Crit Care Med. 2015 Apr;43(4):856-64.
  • Levy MM, Dellinger RP, Townsend SR, et al. The Surviving Sepsis Campaign: results of an international guideline-based performance improvement program targeting severe sepsis. Intensive Care Med. 2010 Feb;36(2):222-231.
  • Randolph AG, McCulloh RJ. Pediatric sepsis: important considerations for diagnosing and managing severe infections in infants, children, and adolescents. Virulence. 2014 Jan 1;5(1):179-189.
  • Gupta RG, Hartigan SM, Kashiouris MG, Sessler CN, Bearman GM. Early goal-directed resuscitation of patients with septic shock: current evidence and future directions. Crit Care. 2015 Aug 28;19:286.
  • Weiss SL, Fitzgerald JC, Pappachan J, et al. Global epidemiology of pediatric severe sepsis: the sepsis prevalence, outcomes, and therapies study. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2015 May 15;191(10):1147-1157.
  • Wunsch H, Guerra C, Barnato AE, Angus DC, Li G, Linde-Zwirble WT. Three-year outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries who survive intensive care. JAMA. 2010 Mar 3;303(9):849-856.


Patient care in the ICU is best provided by an integrated team of dedicated experts directed by a trained and present physician credentialed in critical care medicine (an intensivist). The team may consist of critical care nurses, intensivists, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, physician assistants, physician specialists, primary care physicians, respiratory therapists, other professionals, and patients and their families. Nearly 10,360 intensivists, 503,124 critical care nurses, and 15,375 acute care nurse practitioners practice in the United States. The average base salaries for members of the multiprofessional team are: critical care staff physician, $283,000; critical care staff nurse, $97,990; critical care nurse practitioner, $105,200; staff critical care respiratory therapist, $56,182; and critical care clinical pharmacist, $111,582.


Work Force Shortage

An improved life expectancy, a larger aging population, and improvements in the delivery of healthcare have increased the demand for critical care services. In spite of the increase in physician fellows pursuing critical care subspecialty training between 2003/2004 and 2004/2005, the long-standing shortage of nurses, clinical pharmacists, and respiratory therapists continue to make it difficult to meet patient demand and consistently deliver high-level care. Research indicates that the demand will create a 35% shortfall of intensivist hours by 2020.

The Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) is a member of the Critical Care Societies Collaborative (CCSC), which is working to propose solutions to alleviate the critical care workforce shortage in the U.S. healthcare system. CCSC is an alliance of four medical societies that represent more than 100,000 members integral to critical care delivery: American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, American College of Chest Physicians, American Thoracic Society, and SCCM. CCSC’s website is


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