The Use of Noninvasive Ventilation in Acute Respiratory Failure at a Tertiary Care Center*

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Financial constraints and bed limitations frequently prevent admission of ill patients to a critical care setting. We surveyed the use of treatment with noninvasive ventilation (NIV) in clinical practice by physicians in a tertiary care, university-based teaching hospital and compared our findings with published recommendations for the use of NIV.


Data were collected prospectively on all patients with acute respiratory failure (ARF) for whom NIV was ordered over a 5-month period. The respiratory therapy department was responsible for administering NIV on written order by a physician. The respiratory therapist completed a survey form with patient tracking data for each initiation of NIV. The investigators then surveyed the clinical chart for clinical data.


NIV was utilized for the treatment of ARF on 75 occasions during the 5-month period. Fourteen patients (18%) received NIV for a COPD exacerbation, and 61 patients (82%) received it for respiratory failure of other etiologies. NIV was initiated in the emergency department in 32% of patients, in a critical care setting in 27% of patients, in a ward observation unit in 23% of patients, and on a general medical or surgical ward in 18% of patients. Arterial blood gases (ABGs) were measured on 68 occasions prior to the initiation of NIV, and 51 patients had an ABG measurement within the first 6 h of treatment. The mean pH at baseline was 7.29, and 33% of patients had a baseline pH of < 7.25. Seven patients required endotracheal intubation (ETI) [13%], and there were 18 deaths (24%) with patients having do-not-resuscitate orders, accounting for 12 deaths.


NIV is commonly used outside of a critical care setting. Our outcomes of ETI and death were similar to those cited in the literature despite less aggressive monitoring of these patients.

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