Ground-breaking research by New Zealand specialists could make huge savings in intensive care (ICU).
ICU patients often have to stay on life support longer due to delirium. Patients who are acutely unwell can experience vivid hallucinations, delusions, and an inability to focus, which can make then agitated and aggressive.
But Kiwi and Australian researchers have found the first effective treatment for agitated ICU patients, which allows patients to get off life support sooner.
A medicine called Dexmedetomidine reduces the amount of time that patients spend on life support by around a day. Each day in ICU costs around $4,000. In comparison, a day of dexmedetomidine treatment costs around $140.
Medical Research Institute of New Zealand Researcher and Capital & Coast District Health Board Intensive Care Specialist Dr Paul Young said the findings of the study, which was undertaken in partnership with ICU doctors in Australia, would immediately change medical practice around the world.
"We have already incorporated this treatment into our standard practice and patients here in Wellington are already benefiting from this important therapeutic advance."
Delirium is a common problem associated with significant long-term morbidity. A year after admission, nearly two thirds of patients whose ICU admission was complicated by acute delirium have cognitive impairment of a similar degree to mild Alzheimer's disease.
Dr Young hopes the drug could have other long term benefits.
"We don't know, but it is certainly possible that a treatment that resolves delirium more rapidly reduces the chances of these long term cognitive problems developing."