Professional Responsibility, Consensus, and Conflict: A Survey of Physician Decisions for the Chronically Critically Ill in Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care Units*

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To describe neonatologist and pediatric intensivist attitudes and practices relevant to high-stakes decisions for children with chronic critical illness, with particular attention to physician perception of professional duty to seek treatment team consensus and to disclose team conflict.


Self-administered online survey.


U.S. neonatal ICUs and PICUs.


Neonatologists and pediatric intensivists.



Measurements and Main Results:

We received 652 responses (333 neonatologists, denominator unknown; 319 of 1,290 pediatric intensivists). When asked about guiding a decision for tracheostomy in a chronically critically ill infant, only 41.7% of physicians indicated professional responsibility to seek a consensus decision, but 73.3% reported, in practice, that they would seek consensus and make a consensus-based recommendation; the second most common practice (15.5%) was to defer to families without making recommendations. When presented with conflict among the treatment team, 63% of physicians indicated a responsibility to be transparent about the decision-making process and reported matching practices. Neonatologists more frequently reported a responsibility to give decision making fully over to families; intensivists were more likely to seek out consensus among the treatment team.


ICU physicians do not agree about their responsibilities when approaching difficult decisions for chronically critically ill children. Although most physicians feel a professional responsibility to provide personal recommendations or defer to families, most physicians report offering consensus recommendations. Nearly all physicians embrace a sense of responsibility to disclose disagreement to families. More research is needed to understand physician responsibilities for making recommendations in the care of chronically critically ill children.

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