Family members' experiences of "wait and see" as a communication strategy in end-of-life decisions

Intensive Care Med. 2011 Jul;37(7):1143-50. doi: 10.1007/s00134-011-2253-x. Epub 2011 May 28.


Purpose: The aim of this study is to examine family members' experiences of end-of-life decision-making processes in Norwegian intensive care units (ICUs) to ascertain the degree to which they felt included in the decision-making process and whether they received necessary information. Were they asked about the patient's preferences, and how did they view their role as family members in the decision-making process?

Methods: A constructivist interpretive approach to the grounded theory method of qualitative research was employed with interviews of 27 bereaved family members of former ICU patients 3-12 months after the patient's death.

Results: The core finding is that relatives want a more active role in end-of-life decision-making in order to communicate the patient's wishes. However, many consider their role to be unclear, and few study participants experienced shared decision-making. The clinician's expression "wait and see" hides and delays the communication of honest and clear information. When physicians finally address their decision, there is no time for family participation. Our results also indicate that nurses should be more involved in family-physician communication.

Conclusions: Families are uncertain whether or how they can participate in the decision-making process. They need unambiguous communication and honest information to be able to take part in the decision-making process. We suggest that clinicians in Norwegian ICUs need more training in the knowledge and skills of effective communication with families of dying patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Communication*
  • Decision Making*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Norway
  • Terminal Care*