Objectives: To determine the outcome of lung cancer patients admitted to the medical ICU (MICU), to examine their code status at MICU admission and prior to death, and to determine which subspecialty physician was responsible for the change in code status.
Design: Retrospective chart review study.
Setting: A 19-bed MICU in a tertiary-care university hospital.
Patients: Consecutive patients with a diagnosis of lung cancer admitted to the MICU from July 2002 to June 2004.
Measurements and main results: Forty-seven patients with a diagnosis of lung cancer accounted for 53 MICU admissions. Mean (± SD) age at MICU admission was 65 ± 10 years. Sixty-six percent were male. Eighty-three percent had non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC); 64% of these were stage IV NSCLC. The most common organ system implicated on MICU admission was pulmonary, with 38% of patients presenting with pneumonia. Overall MICU mortality was 43%, and in-hospital mortality was 60%. Patients who required mechanical ventilation or had more advanced lung cancer stage had the worst prognosis, with mortality rates of 74% and 68%, respectively. Seventy-four percent of patients were “full code” at MICU admission. Subsequently, the code status was changed to “do not resuscitate” in 49% of these cases. The pulmonary/critical care physician was involved in this change 96% of the time and was the sole physician in 65% of cases.
Conclusions: This study confirms that patients with lung cancer admitted to the MICU have a high mortality. Despite this, the majority of patients are full code on MICU admission. Pulmonary/critical care physicians play an important role in the end-of-life decision making of lung cancer patients admitted to the MICU, perhaps because of their availability in the MICU and also because of their sense of responsibility in maintaining and withdrawing life support.