Conflict in the Care of Patients with Prolonged Stay in the ICU

Types, Sources, and Predictors

Published in: Intensive care medicine, v. 29, no. 9, Sep. 2003, p. [1489]-1497

Posted on on January 01, 2003

by David M. Studdert, Michelle M. Mello, Jeffrey P. Burns, Ann Louise Puopolo, Benjamin Z. Galper, Robert D. Truog, Troyen A. Brennan

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OBJECTIVE: To determine types, sources, and predictors of conflicts among patients with prolonged stay in the ICU. DESIGN AND SETTING: The authors prospectively identified conflicts by interviewing treating physicians and nurses at two stages during the patients' stays. They then classified conflicts by type and source and used a case-control design to identify predictors of team-family conflicts. DESIGN AND SETTING: Seven medical and surgical ICUs at four teaching hospitals in Boston, USA. PATIENTS: All patients admitted to the participating ICUs over an 11-month period whose stay exceeded the 85th percentile length of stay for their respective unit ( n=656). MEASUREMENTS AND RESULTS: Clinicians identified 248 conflicts involving 209 patients; hence, nearly one-third of patients had conflict associated with their care: 142 conflicts (57%) were team-family disputes, 76 (31%) were intrateam disputes, and 30 (12%) occurred among family members. Disagreements over life-sustaining treatment led to 63 team-family conflicts (44%). Other leading sources were poor communication (44%), the unavailability of family decision makers (15%), and the surrogates' (perceived) inability to make decisions (16%). Nurses detected all types of conflict more frequently than physicians, especially intrateam conflicts. The presence of a spouse reduced the probability of team-family conflict generally (odds ratio 0.64) and team-family disputes over life-sustaining treatment specifically (odds ratio 0.49). CONCLUSIONS: Conflict is common in the care of patients with prolonged stays in the ICU. However, efforts to improve the quality of care for critically ill patients that focus on team-family disagreements over life-sustaining treatment miss significant discord in a variety of other areas.

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