Communication and end-of-life care in the intensive care unit: patient, family, and clinician outcomes

Crit Care Nurs Q. 2005 Oct-Dec;28(4):302-16. doi: 10.1097/00002727-200510000-00002.


Even though good communication among clinicians, patients, and family members is identified as the most important factor in end-of-life care in ICUs, it is the least accomplished. According to accumulated evidence, communication about end-of-life decisions in ICUs is difficult and flawed. Poor communication leaves clinicians and family members stressed and dissatisfied, as well as patients' wishes neglected. Conflict and anger both among clinicians and between clinicians and family members also result. Physicians and nurses lack communication skills, an essential element to achieve better outcomes at end of life. There is an emerging evidence base that proactive, multidisciplinary strategies such as formal and informal family meetings, daily team consensus procedures, palliative care team case finding, and ethics consultation improve communication about end-of-life decisions. Evidence suggests that improving end-of-life communication in ICUs can improve the quality of care by resulting in earlier transition to palliative care for patients who ultimately do not survive and by increasing family and clinician satisfaction. Both larger, randomized controlled trials and mixed methods designs are needed in future work. In addition, research to improve clinician communication skills and to assess the effects of organizational and unit context and culture on end-of-life outcomes is essential.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Professional-Family Relations*
  • Terminal Care* / ethics
  • Terminal Care* / methods
  • United States