Notably, these patients' health-care costs were three to four times higher than costs incurred by typical people in their age range, Herridge said.
"This is a huge public health catastrophe when we're saving people's lives but they're ending up with severe disability," she said. "It's a very important message for patients, families and primary care physicians because I think patients assume they should be well, so they feel bad that they aren't. The message they get is that the patient and their family should just be grateful they're alive . . . and our study clearly says it's not OK."
Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said he was surprised that the patients' lungs recovered so well from the "ominous" illness, but the psychological damage sustained isn't unexpected considering the extent of their ordeal.
"It is totally traumatizing to wake up on a respirator after three weeks with a tracheostomy," Horovitz said, describing a typical scenario.
Using the results, health professionals should make an effort to step up ARDS patients' physical rehabilitation by getting them out of bed sooner and using alternate drugs that may not damage muscles and nerves as extensively, Herridge and Horovitz said.
"We're trying to shift the ICU culture to use less sedation and use more rehab in the ICU and after," Herridge said. "So really, ICU practice patterns need to change."
"I'll be changing how I approach these patients in terms of their immediate rehab," Horovitz agreed. "The research and follow-up over five years shows us we can do more and better for these patients, and we will."
The ARDS Support Group
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