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A pediatric intensive care unit (also paediatric), usually abbreviated to PICU //, is an area within a hospital specializing in the care of critically ill infants, children, and teenagers. A PICU is typically directed by one or more pediatric intensivists or PICU consultants and staffed by doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists who are specially trained and experienced in pediatric intensive care. The unit may also have nurse practitioners, physician assistants, physiotherapists, social workers, child life specialists, and clerks on staff although this varies widely depending on geographic location. The ratio of professionals to patients is generally higher than in other areas of the hospital, reflecting the acuity of PICU patients and the risk of life-threatening complications. Complex technology and equipment is often in use, particularly mechanical ventilators and patient monitoring systems. Consequently, PICUs have a larger operating budget than many other departments within the hospital.
Goran Haglund established the first pediatric intensive care unit, which he called a "pediatric emergency ward", in 1955.
Infants were first kept intubated for long periods in the early 1960s. Breathing tubes made out of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) allowed clinicians to avoid performing tracheostomy (surgically inserting a tube into the windpipe) in more children who required prolonged mechanical ventilation.
Level I PICUs are variable in size, personnel, physical characteristics, and equipment, and that they differ in the types of specialized care (ie, care following transplantation or cardiac surgery) that they provide. Nurse-to-patient ratios range from 2 nurses to 1 patient to 1 nurse to 3 patients. Registered respiratory therapists are required to be assigned primarily to the Level I PICU in-house 24 hours per day.
Level II PICUs are smaller than level I PICUs and are able to care for less critical patients.