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BMC Nurs. 2008 Jan 18;7:1. doi: 10.1186/1472-6955-7-1.

Nurse-led implementation of an insulin-infusion protocol in a general intensive care unit: improved glycaemic control with increased costs and risk of hypoglycaemia signals need for algorithm revision.

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  • 1Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care Medicine, Rikshospitalet Medical Centre, 0027 Oslo, Norway.



Strict glycaemic control (SGC) has become a contentious issue in modern intensive care. Physicians and nurses are concerned about the increased workload due to SGC as well as causing harm through hypoglycaemia. The objective of our study was to evaluate our existing degree of glycaemic control, and to implement SGC safely in our ICU through a nurse-led implementation of an algorithm for intensive insulin-therapy.


The study took place in the adult general intensive care unit (11 beds) of a 44-bed department of intensive care at a tertiary care university hospital. All patients admitted during the 32 months of the study were enrolled. We retrospectively analysed all arterial blood glucose (BG) results from samples that were obtained over a period of 20 months prior to the implementation of SGC. We then introduced an algorithm for intensive insulin therapy; aiming for arterial blood-glucose at 4.4 - 6.1 mmol/L. Doctors and nurses were trained in the principles and potential benefits and risks of SGC. Consecutive statistical analyses of blood samples over a period of 12 months were used to assess performance, provide feedback and uncover incidences of hypoglycaemia.


Median BG level was 6.6 mmol/L (interquartile range 5.6 to 7.7 mmol/L) during the period prior to implementation of SGC (494 patients), and fell to 5.9 (IQR 5.1 to 7.0) mmol/L following introduction of the new algorithm (448 patients). The percentage of BG samples > 8 mmol/L was reduced from 19.2 % to 13.1 %. Before implementation of SGC, 33 % of samples were between 4.4 to 6.1 mmol/L and 12 patients (2.4 %) had one or more episodes of severe hypoglycaemia (< 2.2 mmol/L). Following implementation of SGC, 45.8 % of samples were between 4.4 to 6.1 mmol/L and 40 patients (8.9 %) had one or more episodes of severe hypoglycaemia. Of theses, ten patients died while still hospitalised (all causes).


The retrospective part of the study indicated ample room for improvement. Through the implementation of SGC the fraction of samples within the new target range increased from 33% to 45.8%. There was also a significant increase in severe hypoglycaemic episodes. There continues to be potential for improved glycaemic control within our ICU. This might be achieved through an improved algorithm and continued efforts to increase nurses' confidence and skills in achieving SGC.

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