How Surrogate Decision-Makers for Patients With Chronic Critical Illness Perceive and Carry Out Their Role


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Abstract

Objectives:Family members commonly make medical decision for patients with chronic critical illness. This study examines how family members approach this decision-making role in real time.Design:Qualitative analysis of interviews with family members in the intervention arm of a randomized controlled communication trial.Settings:Medical ICUs at four U.S. hospitals.Participants:Family members of patients with chronic critical illness (adults mechanically ventilated for ≥ 7 d and expected to remain ventilated and survive for ≥ 72 hr) who participated in the active arm of a communication intervention study.Interventions:Family members participated in at least two content-guided, informational, and emotional support meetings led by a palliative care physician and nurse practitioner.Measurements and Main Results:Grounded theory was used for qualitative analysis of 66 audio recordings of meetings with 51 family members. Family members perceived their role in four main ways: voice of the patient, advocate for the patient, advocate for others, and advocate for oneself. Their decision-making was characterized by balancing goals, sharing their role, keeping perspective, remembering previous experiences, finding sources of strength, and coping with various burdens.Conclusions:Family members take a multifaceted approach as they participate in decision-making. Understanding how surrogates perceive and act in their roles may facilitate shared decision-making among clinicians and families during critical care.

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