Background Although there is widespread acceptance that hospital discharge planning should begin at hospital admission, early discharge planning is usually delayed for clinically unstable patients in intensive care units. Objective This pilot study explored the feasibility of beginning the hospital's discharge planning process within 24 hours of an admission to the intensive care unit. Methods Medical records of 15 patients were used to create case summaries generated from information available within 24 hours of admission to the intensive care unit. Twelve unit staff members (registered nurses, clinical nurse specialists, social workers, and discharge planning nurses) predicted the presence and absence of patient self-care deficits at hospital discharge and rated their confidence in making predictions. Results More than half (55%) of patient self-care deficits present at hospital discharge were identified within 24 hours of admission to the unit. Although confidence in predicting deficits increased significantly when more information was available closer to hospital discharge for clinical nurse specialists and staff nurses, confidence for discharge planning nurses and social workers was as high for decisions based on admission information as it was for decisions based on information available at hospital discharge. Conclusions The results provide a preliminary indication that staff in intensive care units may contribute to the early identification of patients' postacute care needs. The results also help to identify methods to study the discharge planning process within intensive care units.