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Intensive care unit, Uncertainty, Uncertainty in Illness Theory



  1. Cypress, Brigitte S. EdD, RN, CCRN


Background: The concept uncertainty has been explored in critical care but only among patients with myocardial infarction and post-cardiac catheterization using the Uncertainty in Illness Theory. Uncertainty is also a finding of numerous studies conducted in intensive care units (ICUs) that included only family members as participants of the research.


Objectives: The purpose of this article is to explore, describe, and understand the concept of uncertainty among patients and family members during critical illness in the ICU from the perspective of a phenomenological study with support from other studies published in the literature using Mishel's Theory of Uncertainty in Illness.


Methods: The concept "uncertainty" as the topic for this article is one of the specific themes illuminated from a qualitative phenomenological study conducted in the ICU in 2010. Five from each category of patients, family members, and nurses were interviewed until data saturation was achieved. The data were analyzed using van Manen's wholistic, selective, and detailed line-by-line approach until themes were illuminated.


Results: Uncertainty is a patient-specific theme illuminated in this qualitative phenomenological study not noted among the family members. The patients perceived that they "do not know what is going to happen," "if they are progressing or not," or "if they will make it or not."


Discussion: Uncertainty among patients related to critical illness should be further explored. Patients with different critical care diagnosis should be included as participants.