Implementing an Early Mobility Programme for Critically Ill Patients
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Impact of Immobility and Delayed Mobility
- 3 Benefits of Early Mobility
- 4 Barriers to Early Mobility
- 5 Key Considerations Before Implementing an EM Programme
- 6 Facilitators to Implementing Early Mobility
- 7 Summary
- 8 References
As discussed here, early mobility (EM) programmes for patients in intensive care units (ICU) are safe and achievable and have been found to improve outcomes in critically unwell patients. It is key that the patients are carefully assessed in order to ensure safety. This page explores the logistics of implementing EM for patients in ICU, particularly in terms of identifying and addressing barriers to commencing EM programmes.
Impact of Immobility and Delayed Mobility
Understanding the negative multi-systemic impact of immobility reinforces the benefits of implementing EM programmes, both for clinicians and patients. In general, bed rest causes increased morbidity and mortality, decreased functional capacity, increased care costs and reduced quality of life.
Inactivity and prolonged bed rest lead to cardiac deconditioning, which affects both the central and peripheral cardiovascular systems. Water loss and cardiac deconditioning can occur as fluids are redistributed when a patient is in a supine position. Prolonged bed rest causes a reduction in blood volume and decreases blood return - this causes a gradual decrease in diastolic volume and stroke volume drops. Stroke volume has been found to decrease by 30% after one month of bed rest. This causes an increase in heart rate in order to try to maintain cardiac output. As stroke volume drops, the workload of the myocardium decreases, so it begins to atrophy. Orthostatic intolerance begins to develop within three days of inactivity. There is also increased blood stasis, which increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis and associated conditions like embolus.
Bed rest results in atelectasis and increases the risk of complications such as pneumonia. Bed rest often also results in delayed weaning from ventilators and decreased respiratory muscle strength. There may be increased airway resistance, decreased mucus clearance with increased mucus pooling, altered ventilation/perfusion ratio and decreased minute ventilation.
Bed rest also causes pressure ulcers, insulin resistance, and can lead to delirium and other impairments related to cognitive processing and changes in sleep patterns. There are also issues associated with pain - these may be due to musculoskeletal dysfunctions or compression neuropathies.
Intensive Care Unit-Acquired Weakness
Most of the changes discussed above improve once mobilisation is commenced and sedation is reduced. Bed rest does, however, result in long term changes in skeletal muscle strength, which is referred to as Intensive Care Unit-Acquired Weakness (ICU-AW). In healthy individuals, immobility is said to cause muscle strength to decrease by 1.3% to 3% per day. Strength decreases by as much as 20 percent after one week of bed rest. Each subsequent week of bed rest causes a further 20 percent decrease in the remaining strength. ICU-AW has been linked to prolonged hospitalisation, delayed weaning and increased mortality. The aetiology of ICU-AW is complex, but risk factors for this condition include:
- Organ failure involving two or more organs and severity of illness
- Length of time of mechanical ventilation
- Length of ICU stay
- Being female
It is believed that the combination of immobility and local / systemic inflammation promotes muscle loss in critically ill patients. Other alterations to the musculoskeletal system that occur with bed rest include:
- Diaphragmatic thinning, which impacts the respiratory status
- Loss of bone mineral density
- Contracture / stiffness
Benefits of Early Mobility
An EM programme may essentially mitigate the effect of long term immobilisation. These programmes are associated with improved functional capacity, increased muscle strength, decreased time on mechanical ventilation, increased walking distance and improved health-related quality of life. EM may help to improve muscle strength, which has a positive effect on patient-centred outcomes post-discharge. It can also have a positive effect on delirium and cognitive function, as well as reducing depression.
EM programmes can also have a positive impact on the respiratory system as mobility helps to improve ventilation-perfusion matching, increases the efficiency of the respiratory mechanism, enhances lung volumes, tidal volumes and minute ventilation and improves airway clearance.
Positive cardiovascular effects include:
- Increased venous return
- Increased myocardial contractility
- Increased stroke volume, heart rate and cardiac output
- Increased coronary perfusion
- Reduced blood stasis and, thus, decreased risk of developing DVT and thromboembolism
Other benefits are improved blood sugar homeostasis, gastrointestinal motility, endothelial function, decreased chronic inflammation and better regulation of hormone levels.
Please click here for more information on early mobilisation in the intensive care setting.
Barriers to Early Mobility
Despite the numerous evidence-based benefits of EM, implementing these programmes within the critical care setting remains a challenge. More so, although several guidelines and safety protocols for EM have been developed for different critical care centres, implementation remains problematic.
Barriers vary across ICUs depending on the patient population, setting and ICU culture. But a recent qualitative study by Anekwe and colleagues across three teaching hospitals in Canada found that there were 36 unique complex barriers to implementing EM programmes. These barriers ranged from a lack of time, equipment, poor staffing, as well as poor communication across the team and the unpredictable nature of ICU. Survey respondents also noted a lack of conviction or limited knowledge about the benefits of EM and a lack of ability to remember and focus on care pathways that could result in gain for the patient. These findings reiterated previously confirmed barriers, as well as identifying new barriers associated with fear, the expectation of poor outcomes and lack of evidence for EM. Ultimately, the research has found that barriers to EM programmes exist at different levels:
- Patient Level
- Physical barriers, including lack of devices and equipment
- Respiratory instability / distress or ventilator asynchrony
- Poor nutritional status
- Baseline or new immobility / weakness
- Deep sedation
- Delirium or agitation
- Lack of motivation or lack of consent
- Fatigue and sleepiness
- Palliative care
- Institutional level
- Provider level
- Family / care giver level
- Unclear expectations and roles
- Lack of knowledge on the benefits of EM
- Lack of motivation to actively participate in mobility exercises
Key Considerations Before Implementing an EM Programme
In order to effectively implement EM programmes, these barriers need to be considered. This requires a coordinated effort between different members of the mobility team, clinicians and the patient.
An interdisciplinary mobility team should be created to champion mobility programmes for the patient. This team will need to identify and, where possible, address barriers to the EM programme. These teams have been shown to improve patient outcomes, staff satisfaction and reduce costs related to employee injuries.
A key component of creating such a team will involve education of team members. It is important that every team member understand the patient’s goals and the aim of the EM programme. Education may be specific to the mobility programme - such as how to use a hoist, how to mobilise or lift / move a specific patient. These factors need to be considered before the EM programme commences. Staff education may also cover the deleterious effects of bed rest and the benefits of EM, as well as the safety of these programmes to enhance provider confidence.
Communication is key when implementing an EM programme. It is important to communicate with the entire team as well as with the patient and their family - the family will likely become a key part of the mobility team on discharge. Thus, it’s important they understand the aim of the EM programme as well. The chosen intervention will depend on the patient’s level of consciousness, sedation level and delirium status.
Facilitators to Implementing Early Mobility
Specific facilitators have been identified that may help to improve the uptake of EM programmes. In particular, systematic efforts to change ICU culture to prioritise early mobilisation using an interprofessional approach and multiple targeted strategies are important components of successfully implementing early mobility in clinical practice. The general consensus on the ABCDE Bundle of caring for the critically ill patient includes early mobility as a key component.
Efficiency in carrying out EM involves coordinated efforts between the mobility team and the patient. The table below contains approaches which are proposed to ensure efficiency and effectiveness.
|Identify and address barriers
Engage mobility team
Educate the team
Communicate and coordinate
- Critical illness is catabolic, rapidly depleting and its effect is long-lasting
- Mobility combined with minimal or no sedation started early is protective and preventative
- When implementing an EM programme, it is essential to have a structured plan, which includes barrier identification and collaboration with the whole team and patient / patient's family or caregivers
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