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BACKGROUND: Hospital patients can become critically ill anywhere in a hospital but their survival is affected by problems of identification and adequate, timely, treatment. This is issue of particular concern in lower middle-income countries' (LMICs) hospitals where specialised units are scarce and severely under-resourced. "Cross-sectional" approaches to improving narrow, specific aspects of care will not attend to issues that affect patients' care across the length of their experience. A simpler approach to understanding key issues across the "hospital journey" could help to deliver life-saving treatments to those patients who need it, wherever they are in the facility. METHODS: We carried out 31 narrative interviews with frontline health workers in five Kenyan and five Tanzanian hospitals from November 2020 to December 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic and analysed using a thematic analysis approach. We also followed 12 patient hospital journeys, through the course of treatment of very sick patients admitted to the hospitals we studied. RESULTS: Our research explores gaps in hospital systems that result in lapses in effective, continuous care across the hospital journeys of patients in Tanzania and Kenya. We organise these factors according to the Systems Engineering Initiative for Patient Safety (SEIPS) approach to patient safety, which we extend to explore how these issues affect patients across the course of care. We discern three repeating, recursive phases we term Receive, Sustain, and Flow. We use this heuristic to show how gaps and weaknesses in service provision affect critically ill patients' hospital journeys. CONCLUSION: Receive, Sustain, and Flow offers a heuristic for hospital management to identify and ameliorate limitations in human and technical resources for the care of the critically ill.

Original publication




Journal article


J Glob Health

Publication Date





Humans, Critical Illness, Kenya, Pandemics, Heuristics, Hospitals