Should a nurse ask family members to help move a patient from the bed to a chair? How do you assess the pain level of a patient who can’t speak? What’s one way to help a patient who may be at risk for dementia?

Attendees of the June 22 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Liberation fair learned the answer to these questions and more as they played games to learn about a suite of innovative methods for caring for ICU patients. At one station, a visitor could reel in a plastic duck with a toy fishing rod and talk about methods for reducing pain without medication. At another, an accurate toss of a stuffed penguin could earn one tips for fostering early mobility.

The setting was whimsical, but the intent was serious. J. Perren Cobb, MD, professor of clinical surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and chair of the advisory board for the new USC Critical Care Institute; Kathrine Winnie, RN, clinical nurse specialist; Geoffrey Cariker, PT, instructor of clinical physical therapy in the Division of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy; and the nurses and therapists of 7 West ICU have spent 18 months participating with 76 other ICUs in The Society of Critical Care Medicine’s ICU Liberation Campaign, and the results have been so promising that the team decided to spread the word.

The campaign centers on six principles of care that each have been found to improve outcomes for ICU patients, ranging from pain assessment to methods for involving loved ones in a patient’s care. Under the ICU Liberation guidelines, for example, a nurse would be encouraged to ask family members to help move a patient from bed to a chair, both to get the patient moving as early as possible and to engage family members with the patient’s recovery. Even something as seemingly small as giving a patient a choice of pain medications can make a difference, the guidelines state.

Collectively, the ICU Liberation practices can help get patients back to normal life faster, with better pain management and a reduced risk for delirium along the way, organizers said.

— Lex Davis