24th November, 2023

In the hospital environment, acronyms are like a second language. But for an outsider, or a patient visitor, you may be wondering what they actually mean. You may be familiar with the acronyms NICU and PICU, but have no idea what they are or what the difference is.

PICU is an acronym for Paediatrics Intensive Care Unit. The PICU sees the highest level of care for paediatric patients at the hospital. The PICU will deal with a variety of health needs, including respiratory, cardiology and neurological illness, with those three being the cause for most common admissions to the unit. The staff working in the PICU are specially trained in dealing with paediatric patients, whether this be straight from birth or up to the age of sixteen. The PICU can oversee patients for different variables of time, some being just one day, some being 3 months at a time.

NICU is an acronym for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The NICU deals with babies straight from birth. However, not all babies will go to the NICU, some will go to the PICU. The NICU is for babies that are born prematurely, of a low birth weight or have a medical condition requiring special care. This ward focuses on providing specialised care to the more ill babies whose lives are more at risk. It is fitted with certain equipment, suited for the needs of poorly, underweight babies.  Often, twins/triplets are admitted to the NICU as they are more commonly born earlier and smaller.

You may be asking ‘well, what’s the difference?’. Although both units offer a similar service, the equipment and focus of the units is completely different. The scale of care for the PICU would not necessarily work for the NICU due to the different age range, health conditions and the development of the patients health condition. The PICU needs to be able to care for various patients of different sizes. Whereas the NICU is dealing with small, yet similar sized babies everyday, meaning that the scale of their equipment is going to be considerably different the PICU.

However, its not to say that if a baby is in the NICU, that they will never visit the PICU. Once a baby has been treated and cared for in the Nicu they may be moved to the PICU as they grow and develop to get the best care for them. The NICU can only care for them for so long, but as they continue to grow, they outgrow the NICU. If a baby requires care from the NICU but the hospital does not have a dedicated NICU, they will be transferred to a hospital where there is a NICU as this is the best choice for them. As they develop though, they will then transfer to the PICU.


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