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Early identification of causative microorganism(s) in patients with severe infection is crucial to optimize antimicrobial use and patient survival. However, current culture-based pathogen identification is slow and unreliable such that broad-spectrum antibiotics are often used to insure coverage of all potential organisms, carrying risks of overtreatment, toxicity, and selection of multidrug-resistant bacteria. We compared the results obtained using a novel, culture-independent polymerase chain reaction/electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry technology with those obtained by standard microbiological testing and evaluated the potential clinical implications of this technique.Observational study.Nine ICUs in six European countries.Patients admitted between October 2013 and June 2014 with suspected or proven bloodstream infection, pneumonia, or sterile fluid and tissue infection were considered for inclusion.None.We tested 616 bloodstream infection, 185 pneumonia, and 110 sterile fluid and tissue specimens from 529 patients. From the 616 bloodstream infection samples, polymerase chain reaction/electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry identified a pathogen in 228 cases (37%) and culture in just 68 (11%). Culture was positive and polymerase chain reaction/electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry negative in 13 cases, and both were negative in 384 cases, giving polymerase chain reaction/electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry a sensitivity of 81%, specificity of 69%, and negative predictive value of 97% at 6 hours from sample acquisition. The distribution of organisms was similar with both techniques. Similar observations were made for pneumonia and sterile fluid and tissue specimens. Independent clinical analysis of results suggested that polymerase chain reaction/electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry technology could potentially have resulted in altered treatment in up to 57% of patients.Polymerase chain reaction/electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry provides rapid pathogen identification in critically ill patients. The ability to rule out infection within 6 hours has potential clinical and economic benefits.