Communication and Decision-Making About End-of-Life Care in the Intensive Care Unit

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Abstract

Background

Clinicians in the intensive care unit commonly face decisions involving withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining therapy, which present many clinical and ethical challenges. Communication and shared decision-making are key aspects relating to the transition from active treatment to end-of-life care.

Objectives

To explore the experiences and perspectives of nurses and physicians when initiating end-of-life care in the intensive care unit.

Methods

The study was conducted in a 24-bed intensive care unit in Melbourne, Australia. An interpretative, qualitative inquiry was used, with focus groups as the data collection method. Intensive care nurses and physicians were recruited to participate in a discipline-specific focus group. Focus group discussions were audio-recorded, transcribed, and subjected to thematic data analysis.

Results

Five focus groups were conducted; 17 nurses and 11 physicians participated. The key aspects discussed included communication and shared decision-making. Themes related to communication included the timing of end-of-life care discussions and conducting difficult conversations. Implementation and multidisciplinary acceptance of end-of-life care plans and collaborative decisions involving patients and families were themes related to shared decision-making.

Conclusions

Effective communication and decisionmaking practices regarding initiating end-of-life care in the intensive care unit are important. Multidisciplinary implementation and acceptance of end-of-life care plans in the intensive care unit need improvement. Clear organizational processes that support the introduction of nurse and physician end-of-life care leaders are essential to optimize outcomes for patients, family members, and clinicians.

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