Impact of a proactive approach to improve end-of-life care in a medical ICU

Chest. 2003 Jan;123(1):266-71. doi: 10.1378/chest.123.1.266.


Study objectives: To assess the impact of a proactive case finding approach to end-of-life care for critically ill patients experiencing global cerebral ischemia (GCI) after cardiopulmonary resuscitation and multiple organ system failure (MOSF) in comparison to historical control subjects.

Design: Comparative study of retrospective and prospective cohorts.

Setting: Medical ICU of a university hospital.

Interventions: Patterns of end-of life care for patients with MOSF and GCI obtained through a retrospective chart review were compared to proactive case finding facilitated by the inpatient palliative care service. Interventions included identification of patient's advance directives or preferences about end-of life care, if any; assistance with discussion of the prognosis and treatment options with patients or their surrogates; and implementation of palliative care strategies when treatment goals changed to a focus on comfort measures.

Results: Although our retrospective data demonstrated a high percentage of do-not-resuscitate decisions for the patients under investigation, a considerable time lag elapsed between identification of the poor prognosis and the establishment of end-of-life treatment goals (4.7 +/- 2.4 days and 3.5 +/- 0.5 days for patients with MOSF and GCI, respectively [mean +/- SE]). The proactive case finding approach decreased hospital length of stay (mean, 20.6 +/- 4.1 days vs 15.1 +/- 2.5 days and 8.6 +/- 1.6 days vs 4.7 +/- 0.6 days for MOSF and GCI patients, respectively; p = 0.063 and < 0.001, respectively). More importantly, a proactive palliative care intervention decreased the time between identification of the poor prognosis and the establishment of comfort care goals (7.3 +/- 2.9 days vs 2.2 +/- 0.8 days and 6.3 +/- 1.2 days vs 3.5 +/- 0.4 days for MOSF and GCI patients, respectively; p < 0.05 for both), decreased the time dying patients with MOSF remained in the ICU, and reduced the use of nonbeneficial resources, thus reducing the cost of care.

Conclusions: Proactive interventions from a palliative care consultant within this subset of patients decreased the use of nonbeneficial resources and avoided protracted dying.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Brain Ischemia / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Organ Failure / therapy*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Terminal Care / standards*