Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders in the Neonatal ICU: Experiences and Beliefs Among Staff*

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Abstract

Objectives:

Studies in adult patients have shown that do-not-resuscitate orders are often associated with decreased medical intervention. In neonatology, this phenomenon has not been investigated, and how do-not-resuscitate orders potentially affect clinical care is unknown.

Design:

Retrospective medical record data review and staff survey responses about neonatal ICU do-not-resuscitate orders.

Setting:

Four academic neonatal ICUs.

Subjects:

Clinical staff members working in each neonatal ICU.

Interventions:

Survey response collection and analysis.

Measurements and Main Results:

Participating neonatal ICUs had 14–48 beds and 120–870 admissions/yr. Frequency range of do-not-resuscitate orders was 3–11 per year. Two-hundred fifty-seven surveys were completed (46% response). Fifty-nine percent of respondents were nurses; 20% were physicians. Over the 5-year period, 44% and 17% had discussed a do-not-resuscitate order one to five times and greater than or equal to 6 times, respectively. Fifty-seven percent and 22% had cared for one to five and greater than or equal to 6 patients with do-not-resuscitate orders, respectively. Neonatologists, trainees, and nurse practitioners were more likely to report receiving training in discussing do-not-resuscitate orders or caring for such patients compared with registered nurses and respiratory therapists (p < 0.001). Forty-one percent of respondents reported caring for an infant in whom interventions had been withheld after a do-not-resuscitate order had been placed without discussing the specific withholding with the family. Twenty-seven percent had taken care of an infant in whom interventions had been withdrawn under the same circumstances. Participants with previous experiences withholding or withdrawing interventions were more likely to agree that these actions are appropriate (p < 0.001).

Conclusions:

Most neonatal ICU staff report experience with do-not-resuscitate orders; however, many, particularly nurses and respiratory therapists, report no training in this area. Variable beliefs with respect to withholding and withdrawing care for patients with do-not-resuscitate orders exist among staff. Because neonatal ICU patients with do-not-resuscitate orders may ultimately survive, withholding or withdrawing interventions may have long-lasting effects, which may or may not coincide with familial intentions.

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