Physician communication with families in the ICU: evidence-based strategies for improvement

Curr Opin Crit Care. 2009 Dec;15(6):569-77. doi: 10.1097/MCC.0b013e328332f524.


Purpose of review: Skilled physician-family communication in the ICU has been shown to improve patient outcomes, but until now little attention has been given to the effect of communication on family satisfaction and bereavement outcomes. The aim of this review is to outline the recent evidence that effective physician communication with families, and proactive palliative care interventions, can improve outcomes for both patients and family members in the ICU.

Recent findings: New data from the ICU correlates physician ability to identify and respond to emotion and to effectively share prognostic information with improved outcomes. Furthermore, proactive palliative care interventions that promote family meetings, use of empathic communication skills, and targeted palliative care consultations can improve family satisfaction, reduce length of stay in the ICU and reduce adverse family bereavement outcomes.

Summary: Empathic communication, skilful discussion of prognosis, and effective shared decision-making are core elements of quality care in the ICU, represent basic competencies for the ICU physician, and should be emphasized in future educational and clinical interventions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Empathy
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Palliative Care
  • Physicians*
  • Professional-Family Relations*