Objective: Family members of critically ill patients report dissatisfaction with family-clinician communication about withdrawing life support, yet limited data exist to guide clinicians in this communication. The hypothesis of this analysis was that increased proportion of family speech during ICU family conferences would be associated with increased family satisfaction.
Design: Cross-sectional study.
Setting: We identified family conferences in intensive care units of four Seattle hospitals during which discussions about withdrawing life support were likely to occur.
Participants: Participants were 214 family members from 51 different families. There were 36 different physicians leading the conferences, as some physicians led more than one conference.
Interventions: Fifty-one conferences were audiotaped.
Measurements: We measured the duration of time that families and clinicians spoke during the conference. All participants were given a survey assessing satisfaction with communication.
Results: The mean conference time was 32.0 mins with an sd of 14.8 mins and a range from 7 to 74 mins. On average, family members spoke 29% and clinicians spoke 71% of the time. Increased proportion of family speech was significantly associated with increased family satisfaction with physician communication. Increased proportion of family speech was also associated with decreased family ratings of conflict with the physician. There was no association between the duration of the conference and family satisfaction.
Conclusions: This study suggests that allowing family members more opportunity to speak during conferences may improve family satisfaction. Future studies should assess the effect of interventions to increase listening by critical care clinicians on the quality of communication and the family experience.