The use of nonphysician-directed protocols and guidelines for the management of sedation and weaning has been shown to reduce the duration of mechanical ventilation for patients with acute respiratory failure when compared with conventional physician-directed practices. Practitioners in ICUs frequently are needed to perform multiple tasks and to evaluate numerous elements of clinical information in the care of the critically ill. In this complex environment, protocols and guidelines are one strategy for ensuring that specific tasks are carried out in a timely manner. Simple-to-employ methods for facilitating changes and improvements in the care of hospitalized patients recently have been proposed. These methods emphasize the importance of developing a culture of cooperation within the ICU so protocols and guidelines can be implemented successfully. Such a culture should embrace changes in medical practices in the ICU if they are associated with improved clinical outcomes. The results of studies evaluating the use of protocols and guidelines have important implications for general critical care practices, because many ICUs do not have physicians who are constantly at the patient's bedside. The need for effective communication from the bedside caregiver (e.g., nurse, respiratory therapist, pharmacist, technician) to the physician, so that treatment orders can be changed appropriately, usually results in some delay in the implementation of treatment changes. Protocols are one method for potentially reducing those delays and ensuring that medical care is administered in a more standardized and efficient manner.