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Original Research

Long-term morbidity and mortality in survivors of critical illness: a 5-year observational follow-up study

Submitted: 5 February 2016
Revised: 26 September 2016
Accepted: 18 October 2016
Published: 23 February 2017

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Author(s) : Secombe PJ, Stewart P.

Citation: Secombe PJ, Stewart P.  Long-term morbidity and mortality in survivors of critical illness: a 5-year observational follow-up study. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2017; 17: 3908. Available: (Accessed 17 October 2017). DOI:


Introduction:  This prospective observational study over 5 years aimed to quantify long-term morbidity and mortality in a prospectively recruited cohort of Central Australian survivors of critical illness.
Methods:  Eligible participants are survivors of an intensive care unit (ICU) admission for a critical illness at the Alice Springs Hospital (ASH), prospectively recruited during 2009. The ASH ICU is a 10-bed unit located in Central Australia with approximately 600 admissions annually, 95% of which are emergent, and 65% Indigenous. All-cause mortality, secondary healthcare utilisation and functional outcomes were measured by 6-minute walk distance (an indicator of functional status) and the home and community care (HACC) screening tool at 5 years.
Results:  Sixty eight percent of the cohort had died at 5 years. Median age of death was 53 years with a median time to death of 604 days following ICU admission. There was increased secondary healthcare utilisation measured by emergency department presentations and hospital re-admissions, with a median 5.22 healthcare presentations per year alive. There is evidence of ongoing functional limitation with 6-minute walk distance at 5 years significantly less than that predicted, despite high scores on the HACC screening assessment suggesting virtually full resumption of basic and domestic activities of daily living.
Conclusions:  A critical illness is not an isolated event, and there is evidence of ongoing high secondary healthcare utilisation, reflecting a high burden of disease. Mortality in this cohort is higher than would be expected from international data, and at a young median age, suggesting significant loss of productive life years. In addition, there is evidence of ongoing morbidity, with higher rates of healthcare utilisation than comparable international studies. This has profound implications for healthcare planners due to the ongoing economic implications, and may suggest a need for increased primary healthcare resources to pre-emptively manage chronic disease and reduce the burden of healthcare utilisation at acute care facilities.

Key words: activities of daily living, Australia, critical care, critical illness, follow-up studies, intensive care units, outcome assessment (health care), patient readmission, survivors, longitudinal studies, survival rate.

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