caregiver, critical care, family, health literacy, palliative care, surrogate



  1. Baltazar, Alberto O. MSN, RN, CCRN-CMC, SCRN, TCRN
  2. Popejoy, Lori PhD, RN, FAAN


Worldwide, 56.8 million persons are estimated to require palliative care. Critically ill patients benefit from palliative care by improving their quality of life through symptom management. Resistance to palliative care exists from surrogate decision-makers because of low health literacy and communication issues with providers. This research reviewed the literature to identify how health literacy and health care communication influenced palliative care conversations with decision-making surrogates and health outcomes of critically ill patients. The review included articles between 2011 and 2022 using the terms communication, health literacy, palliative care, critical care, intensive care, ICU, surrogate decision maker, family, and caregiver in PubMed, CINAHL, and Google Scholar. Fourteen articles were included. Quality was assessed through Joanna Briggs Institute appraisal tools. Health literacy of surrogates was not found to be significant for patient outcomes. However, there were significant differences between clinician and surrogate communication influenced by surrogates' previous health care experiences. Early communication about prognosis was important for surrogates. Structured communication approaches were preferred by surrogates. Limitations of the review included primarily White participants, small variability of research sites, and a few number of articles. Future research needs to study the effects of surrogate health literacy of critically ill patients on willingness to accept palliative care.