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To establish a database that permits description and analysis of the evolving role, patterns of use, and costs of critical care medicine (CCM) in the United States from 1985 to 2000.Retrospective study combining data from federal (Hospital Cost Report Information System, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Baltimore, MD) and private (Hospital Statistics, American Hospital Association, Chicago, IL) databases to analyze U.S. hospitals, hospital and CCM beds, and occupancy. CCM costs were calculated by the Russell equation and compared with national health care and financial indexes.Nonfederal, acute care hospitals with CCM units in the United States.None.None.We analyzed hospitals with CCM units and focused on hospital and CCM beds, CCM occupancy, and CCM costs. CCM costs were compared with national cost indexes. Between 1985 and 2000, the total number of U.S. hospitals decreased by 8.9% (6,032 to 5,494) and acute care hospitals offering CCM decreased by 13.7% (4,150 to 3,581). The total number of beds in hospitals with CCM units decreased by 26.4% (889,600 to 654,400). In contrast, CCM beds increased by 26.2% (69,300 to 87,400). CCM occupancy was constant at 65%. CCM bed costs per day increased by 126% ($1,185 to $2,674). Although CCM costs increased by 190.4% ($19.1 billion to $55.5 billion), the proportion of national health expenditures allocated to CCM decreased by 5.4%. In 2000, CCM costs represented 13.3% of hospital costs, 4.2% of national health expenditures, and 0.56% of the gross domestic product.CCM is increasingly used and prominent in a shrinking U.S. hospital system. CCM occupancy is lower than expected. Despite its increasing use and cost, CCM is using proportionally less of national health expenses and the gross domestic product than previously estimated.