Research in Critical Care
When your loved ones are admitted to the ICU, our team will be working hard to look after you to the best of our ability. Like any of the leading hospitals and ICUs around the world, we are constantly looking for new ways to improve the care we give our patients. Research studies are one way in which we do this.
Some research studies are relatively simple: we collect information from lots of patient, and put it all together to see what patterns there are. We can use this to help find our how diseases affect the body, for example.
Most of our studies, though, are clinical trials. This is where we compare two or more different treatments to see which is most effective. For example, this could be comparing two treatments that are already in use to see which is better. In other studies we are comparing our current treatments with something different that we hope will prove to be an improvement on our current treatments. In every situation, we aim to do the very best for all our patients, and so we monitor progress even more closely than usual.
As a family member or close friend of a patient in ICU, you may well be approached by a doctor or nurse from the research team to discuss taking part in a research study.
Why take part in research?
Research saves lives. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, we took part in the REMAP-CAP trial, which found new and effective treatments for people who were seriously ill with COVID-19. Some of our patients received life-saving drugs because they were part of this trial.
Not every new treatment is effective. But even if not, by finding out what doesn’t work, we are able to focus our efforts better to improve the care that we give patients in the future, and so all research is valuable.
Overall, we know that patients who are part of research trials do better than those who aren’t, and hospitals that take part in research have better results than those which don’t. There are lots of possible reasons for this – new treatments, even closer attention, or just the fact that teams who do research are showing how much they want to improve.
What are the risks involved in taking part in research?
While every treatment (whether as part of research or the normal care that we give) carries a small element of risk, we pay a huge amount of care and attention to ensure that research studies happen safely. Most of our studies involve no extra risk compared with the usual care that we give our patients, and overall the benefits of taking part outweigh any risk.
How can I or my family member take part in critical care research?
For anyone to take part in research, they (or a someone acting on their behalf) must give consent. That means they must (a) have information about what the research study involves, (b) be able to understand and process the information, and (c) give their considered agreement to take part. When someone is critically ill in intensive care, they are often not able to do this, and the decision usually can’t be delayed, since treatments are most useful when given early. For this reason, we will often ask a family member or close friend to give their advice as to what the patient would think if they were asked to take part in a research study.
As a family member or close friend of a patient in ICU, you may well be approached by a doctor or nurse from the research team to discuss their taking part in research. If so, we will be looking for your advice as to whether the patient would be willing to be involved or not. We will talk to you about what the research is for, the risks and benefits, and exactly what is involved. You don’t have to give this advice: if you prefer, you can leave it up to one of the doctors taking care of your family member or close friend (who isn’t involved with the study) to make the decision on behalf of the patient. If you do give the advice that you think the patient would be happy to take part, we will go ahead, but when the patient is able to decide for themselves, we will ask them if they still want to be involved.
If you would like to know more about research into critical illness and the studies we’re running, you can email us on BHSCTCCRESEARCH@belfasttrust.hscni.net.
You can also find out more in the video below.