Intersection of prognosis and palliation in neurocritical care

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Difficult discussions regarding end-of-life care are common in neurocritical care. Because of a patient's neurological impairment, decisions regarding continuing or limiting aggressive care must often be made by patients’ families in conjunction with medical providers. This review provides perspective on three major aspects of this circumstance: prognostication, family–physician discussions, and determination of death (specifically as it impacts on organ donation).

Recent findings

Numerous studies have now demonstrated that prediction models developed from populations of brain-injured patients may be misleading when applied to individual patients. Early care limitations may lead to the self-fulfilling prophecy of poor outcomes because of care decisions rather than disease course. A shared decision-making approach that emphasizes transmission of information and trust between families and medical providers is ethically appropriate in severely brain-injured patients and as part of the transition to end-of-life palliative care. Standard definitions of death by neurological criteria exist, although worldwide variation and the relationship to organ donation make this complex.

Summary

End-of-life care in patients with severe brain injuries is common and represents a complex intersection of prognostication, family communication, and decision-making. Skills to optimize this should be emphasized in neurocritical care providers.

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