Enteral nutrition in intensive care unit patients has important prognostic clinical value. Feeding protocols are recommended by clinical practice guidelines as a key strategy to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of enteral feedings.
To examine whether enteral nutrition in critically ill patients could be improved by implementation of a nurse-led evidence-based feeding protocol.
An interprofessional group of intensive care unit nurses, physicians, and a clinical dietitian designed a protocol to address and correct the shortcomings of enteral feeding. Data on feeding and clinical outcomes were collected retrospectively for patients for 12 months before (control group) and then for 12 months after (interventional group) implementation of the protocol.
Enteral feeding was started significantly earlier (P = .007) after admission to the intensive care unit in the intervention group (52.3 hours; SD, 42.6) than in the control group (70.3 hours; SD, 65.2). Use of the protocol resulted in a significant increase in nutritional intake; 90% of patients in the intervention group but only 34% in the traditional feeding group achieved their caloric target within 96 hours after admission (P < .001). After implementation of the protocol, cessation of feeding due to intolerance was significantly less (P = .03) in the intervention group (6%) than in the traditional feeding group (14 %), and no adverse events were detected.
Adherence to standardized guidelines with a written protocol for an early start and timely escalation of enteral feeding can improve nutritional intake among intensive care unit patients.