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

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Abstract

Objectives:

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.

Design:

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.

Setting:

Single-center PICU of a tertiary medical center.

Subjects:

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.

Conclusions:

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.

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