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Authors

  1. Gutierrez, Karen M. PhD, RN

Abstract

This article reports the results of a study designed to explore the experiences and needs of family members for prognostic communication at end of life in an intensive care unit (ICU). Subjects in this qualitative study included 20 family members of patients at high risk for death in 1 adult medical/surgical ICU. All subjects were interviewed once utilizing a semistructured interview format, with approximately half interviewed multiple times during the ICU stay. Families described 5 themes of information-related "work": (1) hearing and recalling, (2) accessing, (3) interpreting, (4) retaining, and (5) utilizing information for decision making. Barriers, including accessing physicians and cognitive issues from high levels of stress, made this work difficult. Families described a need for prognostic information, especially if the prognosis was poor. Because hearing this news was difficult, they needed it communicated with respect, sensitivity, and compassion. Suggestions for clinical practice to support families in their information-related work are presented. Overall, the importance of providers approaching communication from a holistic perspective, extending beyond simply passing on information, is emphasized. Viewing communication as a therapeutic modality, and communicating with compassion, sensitivity, and a genuine sense of caring, can help provide both the information and the emotional support and comfort families desperately need.