26 February 2018
Progress in management has improved hospital mortality of patients admitted to the intensive care units, but also the prevalence of those patients needing weaning from prolonged mechanical ventilation, and of ventilator assisted individuals. The result is a number of difficult clinical and organizational problems for patients, caregivers and health services, as well as high human and financial resources consumption, despite poor long-term outcomes. An effort should be made to improve the management of these patients. This narrative review summarizes the main concepts in this field.
There is great variability in terminology and definitions of prolonged mechanical ventilation.
There have been several recent developments in the field of prolonged weaning: ventilatory strategies, use of protocols, early mobilisation and physiotherapy, specialised weaning units.
There are few published data on discharge home rates, need of home mechanical ventilation, or long-term survival of these patients.
Whether artificial nutritional support improves the outcome for these chronic critically ill patients, is unclear and controversial how these data are reported on the optimal time of initiation of parenteral vs enteral nutrition.
There is no consensus on time of tracheostomy or decannulation. Despite several individualized, non-comparative and non-validated decannulation protocols exist, universally accepted protocols are lacking as well as randomised controlled trials on this critical issue. End of life decisions should result from appropriate communication among professionals, patients and surrogates and national legislations should give clear indications.
Present medical training of clinicians and locations like traditional intensive care units do not appear enough to face the dramatic problems posed by these patients. The solutions cannot be reserved to professionals but must involve also families and all other stakeholders. Large multicentric, multinational studies on several aspects of management are needed.