Background: There is a need for close communication with relatives of patients dying in the intensive care unit (ICU). We evaluated a format that included a proactive end-of-life conference and a brochure to see whether it could lessen the effects of bereavement.
Methods: Family members of 126 patients dying in 22 ICUs in France were randomly assigned to the intervention format or to the customary end-of-life conference. Participants were interviewed by telephone 90 days after the death with the use of the Impact of Event Scale (IES; scores range from 0, indicating no symptoms, to 75, indicating severe symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD]) and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS; subscale scores range from 0, indicating no distress, to 21, indicating maximum distress).
Results: Participants in the intervention group had longer conferences than those in the control group (median, 30 minutes [interquartile range, 19 to 45] vs. 20 minutes [interquartile range, 15 to 30]; P<0.001) and spent more of the time talking (median, 14 minutes [interquartile range, 8 to 20] vs. 5 minutes [interquartile range, 5 to 10]). On day 90, the 56 participants in the intervention group who responded to the telephone interview had a significantly lower median IES score than the 52 participants in the control group (27 vs. 39, P=0.02) and a lower prevalence of PTSD-related symptoms (45% vs. 69%, P=0.01). The median HADS score was also lower in the intervention group (11, vs. 17 in the control group; P=0.004), and symptoms of both anxiety and depression were less prevalent (anxiety, 45% vs. 67%; P=0.02; depression, 29% vs. 56%; P=0.003).
Conclusions: Providing relatives of patients who are dying in the ICU with a brochure on bereavement and using a proactive communication strategy that includes longer conferences and more time for family members to talk may lessen the burden of bereavement. (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00331877.)
2007 Massachusetts Medical Society