Characteristics of Family Conferences at the Bedside Versus the Conference Room in Pediatric Critical Care*

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To compare characteristics of family conferences at the bedside vs. the conference room in the PICU.


Single-site, cohort survey study.


Thirty-three bed academic PICU in an urban setting.


Ten PICU physicians (90.9%) providing care to 29 patients whose families participated in 58 family conferences.

Measurements and Main Results:

Family conferences, defined as a meeting involving the parent(s) of a PICU patient and the critical care attending physician to discuss a treatment decision, redirection of care from curative to palliative, or deliver bad news, occurred most commonly among families of the sickest patients. Conferences were conducted at the bedside 20 times out of 58 (33%). Although physicians stated a general preference to discuss withdrawal or withholding care in the conference room, there was no difference in location during actual conferences. Physicians preferred the bedside when they wanted the patient to participate (p = 0.01) or because it was perceived to be easier (p < 0.0005) or faster (p = 0.016) to conduct, while the conference room was preferred when additional space was needed (p < 0.0005). Family conferences at the bedside were less likely to include a social worker (p < 0.0005), consultant physicians (p = 0.043), or father of the patient (p = 0.006) as compared with conferences in a conference room. Family conferences convened to discuss a treatment were followed by a decision within 24 hours (42% of the time) and a change in code status (32% of the time). In 32 of 58 family conferences (55%), the attending physician did not have a prior relationship with the family.


Family conferences in the PICU are common both at the bedside and in conference rooms in a subpopulation of the most critically ill children and frequently result in a treatment decision or change in code status.

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