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Original article

Vol. 154 No. 2 (2024)

Changes in diagnostic patterns and resource utilisation in Swiss adult ICUs during the first two COVID-19 waves: an exploratory study

  • Marco Previsdomini
  • Andreas Perren
  • Alessandro Chiesa
  • Mark Kaufmann
  • Hans Pargger
  • Roger Ludwig
  • Bernard Cerutti
Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2024;154:3589


BACKGROUND AND AIM: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak deeply affected intensive care units (ICUs). We aimed to explore the main changes in the distribution and characteristics of Swiss ICU patients during the first two COVID-19 waves and to relate these figures with those of the preceding two years.

METHODS: Using the national ICU registry, we conducted an exploratory study to assess the number of ICU admissions in Switzerland and their changes over time, characteristics of the admissions, the length of stay (LOS) and its trend over time, ICU mortality and changes in therapeutic nursing workload and hospital resources in 2020 and compare them with the average figures in 2018 and 2019.

RESULTS: After analysing 242,935 patient records from all 84 certified Swiss ICUs, we found a significant decrease in admissions (–9.6%, corresponding to –8005 patients) in 2020 compared to 2018/2019, with an increase in the proportion of men admitted (61.3% vs 59.6%; p <0.001). This reduction occurred in all Swiss regions except Ticino. Planned admissions decreased from 25,020 to 22,021 in 2020 and mainly affected the neurological/neurosurgical (–14.9%), gastrointestinal (–13.9%) and cardiovascular (–9.3%) pathologies. Unplanned admissions due to respiratory diagnoses increased by 1971 (+25.2%), and those of patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) requiring isolation reached 9973 (+109.9%). The LOS increased by 20.8% from 2.55 ± 4.92 days (median 1.05) in 2018/2019 to 3.08 ± 5.87 days (median 1.11 days; p <0.001), resulting in an additional 19,753 inpatient days. The nine equivalents of nursing manpower use score (NEMS) of the first nursing shift (21.6 ± 9.0 vs 20.8 ± 9.4; p <0.001), the total NEMS per patient (251.0 ± 526.8 vs 198.9 ± 413.8; p <0.01) and mortality (5.7% vs 4.7%; p <0.001) increased in 2020. The number of ICU beds increased from 979 to 1012 (+3.4%), as did the number of beds equipped with mechanical ventilators (from 773 to 821; +6.2%).

CONCLUSIONS: Based on a comprehensive national data set, our report describes the profound changes triggered by COVID-19 over one year in Swiss ICUs. We observed an overall decrease in admissions and a shift in admission types, with fewer planned hospitalisations, suggesting the loss of approximately 3000 elective interventions. We found a substantial increase in unplanned admissions due to respiratory diagnoses, a doubling of ARDS cases requiring isolation, an increase in ICU LOS associated with substantial nationwide growth in ICU days, an augmented need for life-sustaining therapies and specific therapeutic resources and worse outcomes.


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