Discussing Benefits and Risks of Tracheostomy: What Physicians Actually Say*

    loading  Checking for direct PDF access through Ovid



When contemplating tracheostomy placement in a pediatric patient, a family-physician conference is often the setting for the disclosure of risks and benefits of the procedure. Our objective was to compare benefits and risks of tracheostomy presented during family-physician conferences to an expert panel’s recommendations for what should be presented.


We conducted a retrospective review of 19 transcripts of audio-recorded family-physician conferences regarding tracheostomy placement in children. A multicenter, multidisciplinary expert panel of clinicians was surveyed to generate a list of recommended benefits and risks for comparison. Primary analysis of statements by clinicians was qualitative.


Single-center PICU of a tertiary medical center.


Family members who participated in family-physician conferences regarding tracheostomy placement for a critically ill child from April 2012 to August 2014.

Measurements and Main Results:

We identified 300 physician statements describing benefits and risks of tracheostomy. Physicians were more likely to discuss benefits than risks (72% vs 28%). Three broad categories of benefits were identified: 1) tracheostomy would limit the impact of being in the PICU (46%); 2) perceived obstacles of tracheostomy can be overcome (34%); and 3) tracheostomy optimizes respiratory health (20%). Risks fell into two categories: tracheostomy involves a big commitment (71%), and it has complications (29%). The expert panel’s recommendations were similar to risks and benefits discussed during family conferences; however, they suggested physicians present an equal balance of discussion of risks and benefits.


When discussing tracheostomy placement, physicians emphasized benefits that are shared by physicians and families while minimizing the risks. The expert panel recommended a balanced approach by equally weighing risks and benefits. To facilitate educated decision making, physicians should present a more extensive range of risks and benefits to families making this critical decision.

Related Topics

    loading  Loading Related Articles