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To compare the effect on clinical outcome of changing a surgical intensive care unit from an open to a closed unit.The study was carried out at a surgical intensive care unit in a large tertiary care hospital, which was changed on January 1, 1996, from an open unit, where private attending physicians contributed and controlled the care of their patients, to a closed unit, where patients' medical care was provided only by the surgical critical care team (ABS or ABA board-certified intensivists). A retrospective review was undertaken over 6 consecutive months in each system, encompassing 274 patients (125 in the open-unit period, 149 in the closed-unit period). Morbidity and mortality were compared between the two periods, along with length-of-stay (LOS) and number of consults obtained. A set of independent variables was also evaluated, including age, gender, APACHE III scores, the presence of preexisting medical conditions, the use of invasive monitoring (Swan-Ganz catheters, central and arterial lines), and the use of antibiotics, low-dose dopamine (LDD) for renal protection, vasopressors, TPN, and enteral feeding.Mortality (14.4% vs. 6.04%, p = 0.012) and the overall complication rate (55.84% vs. 44.14%, p = 0.002) were higher in the open-unit group versus the closed-unit group, respectively. The number of consults obtained was decreased (0.6 vs. 0.4 per patient, p = 0.036), and the rate of occurrence of renal failure was higher in the open-unit group (12.8% vs. 2.67%, p = 0.001). The mean age of the patients was similar in both groups (66.48 years vs. 66.40, p = 0.96). APACHE III scores were slightly higher in the open-unit group but did not reach statistical significance (39.02 vs. 36.16, p = 0.222). There were more men in the first group (63.2% vs. 51.3%). The use of Swan-Ganz catheters or central and arterial lines were identical, as was the use of antibiotics, TPN, and enteral feedings. The use of LDD was higher in the first group, but the LOS was identical.Conversion of a tertiary care surgical intensive care unit from an open to closed environment reduced dopamine usage and overall complication and mortality rates. These results support the concept that, when possible, patients in surgical intensive care units should be managed by board-certified intensivists in a closed environment.