Critical care (also known as Intensive Care) is the multi-professional healthcare speciality that cares for patients with acute, life-threatening illness or injury. Most of us will experience a critical illness or injury, either as the patient, family member or friend of a patient.
Critical care can be provided wherever life is threatened - at the scene of an accident, in an ambulance, in a hospital emergency room, or in the operating room. Most critical care today, however, is delivered in highly specialized intensive care units (ICU). Various terminologies like Critical Care Unit (CCU), Intensive Therapy Unit (ITU), Coronary Care Unit (CCU) may be used to describe such services in a hospital.
Critical care is provided by multi-professional teams of highly experienced and professional physicians, nurses, respiratory care technicians, pharmacists and other allied health professionals who use their unique expertise, ability to interpret important therapeutic information, access to highly sophisticated equipment and the services of support personnel to provide care that leads to the best outcome for the patient.
Patients are rarely admitted directly to the critical care unit. Rather, they are usually admitted from the emergency room, or surgical area where they are first given care and stabilized. The continuum of critical care begins at the moment of illness or injury and continues throughout the patient's hospitalization, treatment and subsequent recovery.
Typical examples of critical illness include heart attack, poisoning, pneumonia, surgical complications, premature birth, and stroke. Critical care also includes trauma care - care of the severely injured - whether due to an automobile accident, gunshot or stabbing wounds, a fall, burns, or an industrial accident.
Critical care refers exclusively to the treatment of patients who suffer from life-threatening conditions. Emergency room physicians and nurses treat patients who suffer from relatively minor emergencies (sprained ankles, broken arms) to those with major problems including heart attack, knife or gunshot wounds or drug overdoses. In the Emergency Department, physicians and nurses stabilize patients and transport them to the ICU or other area of the hospital for further treatment. The long-term management of critically ill and injured patients is provided by critical care professionals, often in the ICU.
An intensivist (also known as Critical Care Specialist) is a doctor with subspeciality training, or equivalent qualifications, in critical care. An intensivist directs the care of critically ill and injured patients and works in collaboration with other health care professionals necessary for the care of patients in critical care units.