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What Are Critical Care Protocols?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Critical care protocols provide specific guidelines for handling patients with life-threatening medical conditions. Studies indicate that protocols can increase the chances of a positive outcome when applied correctly. Some individual judgment may be required because each case is different. A multidisciplinary care team can be valuable because members may discuss specifics and how to proceed if they need to deviate from the established standards. Hospitals may have their own critical care protocols, or they can use standard guidelines produced by other facilities and professional organizations.

This documentation covers a wide variety of situations, starting with the standards for admission to a critical care unit and ending with the checklist used to determine when to withdraw care for a patient who will not recover. Critical care protocols can explicitly discuss how practitioners should handle particular medical conditions or incidents like severe accidents. They may provide guidance on how to administer medication and perform certain procedures, like weaning a patient from a ventilator.

Prewritten orders for medication can be included in critical care protocols. These may attach a checklist in plain text for nurses and other care providers to follow, which can reduce the risk of error, especially in the administration of complex or potentially fatal drugs. The steps can include testing for conflicts, double checking the dosage of a dangerous medication, and obtaining informed consent from the patient, if necessary. Checkboxes allow people to record the process to create documentation for the patient’s file.

There are several benefits to using critical care protocols rather than asking care providers to use their judgment in all cases. Having standards ensures that no steps are missed in treatment, and that every patient has access to the same level of care. In addition to improving patient outcomes, this can offer some liability protection by demonstrating that the medical team exercised their professional duty of care in handling the case. Protocols can also be useful in clinical studies where as many factors as possible need to be controlled to achieve useful results.

Some facilities make their critical care protocols available to members of the public. People interested in reading them can do so, and may ask for clarification if they have specific questions. In other cases the documentation is proprietary and may be limited to hospital staff and affiliated medical professionals. Generalized guidelines are also available from organizations that promote excellence in critical care medicine.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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