The end-of-life family meeting in intensive care part I: Indications, outcomes, and family needs

J Palliat Med. 2011 Sep;14(9):1042-50. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2011.0038. Epub 2011 Aug 10.


This is a three-part article that reviews the literature on end-of-life family meetings in intensive care, focused on situations when the patient cannot participate. Family meetings in end-of-life care, especially when conducted prophylactically or proactively, have been shown to be effective procedures for improving family and staff satisfaction and even reducing resource utilization. The first part of the article outlines the family needs that should be addressed in such meetings, including clinician availability, consistent information sharing (especially of prognosis), empathic communication and support, facilitation of bereavement, and trust. The second part addresses family-centered, shared decision making and sources of conflict, as well as related communication and negotiation skills and how to end the meeting. Families and clinicians differ in 1) their understanding of the patient's condition and prognosis; 2) the emotional impact of the illness, particularly the personal meaning of pursuing recovery or limiting supports; and 3) their views of how to make decisions about life-prolonging treatments. The final part draws on the previous two sections to present a structured format and guide for communication skills in conflictual meetings. Ten steps for a humane and effective meeting are suggested, illustrated with sample conversations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication
  • Critical Care*
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Professional-Family Relations*
  • Proxy*
  • Terminal Care*