Family-physician interactions in the intensive care unit

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Abstract

Surrogate designation has the potential to represent the patient’s wishes and promote successful family involvement in decision making when options exist as to the patient’s medical management. In recent years, intensive care unit physicians and nurses have promoted family-centered care on the basis that adequate and effective communication with family members is the key to substitute decision making, thereby protecting patient autonomy. The two-step model for the family-physician relationship in the intensive care unit including early and effective provision of information to the family followed by family input into decision making is described as well as specific needs of the family members of dying patients. A research agenda is outlined for further investigating the family-physician relationship in the intensive care unit. This agenda includes a) improvement of communication skills for health care workers; b) research in the area of information and communication; c) interventions in non-intensive care unit areas to promote programs for teaching communication skills to all members of the medical profession; d) research on potential conflict between medical best interest and the ethics of autonomy; and e) publicity to enhance society’s interest in advance care planning and surrogate designation amplified by debate in the media and other sounding boards. These studies should focus both on families and on intensive care unit workers. Assessments of postintervention outcomes in family members would provide insights into how well family-centered care matches family expectations and protects families from distress, not only during the intensive care unit stay but also during the ensuing weeks and months.

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