How robust is the 'surprise question' in predicting short-term mortality risk in haemodialysis patients?

Nephron Clin Pract. 2013;123(3-4):185-93. doi: 10.1159/000353735. Epub 2013 Aug 6.


Background/aims: The 'surprise question' (SQ) may aid timely identification of patients with end-of-life care needs. We assessed its prognostic value and variability among clinicians caring for a cohort of haemodialysis (HD) patients.

Methods: Clinicians (29 nurses and 6 nephrologists) in each of our 3 HD units were asked to pose the SQ concerning all patients dialysing in their unit. There were 344 patients, 116 in Unit 1, 132 in Unit 2 and 96 in Unit 3.

Results: An adverse SQ response: 'I would not be surprised if this patient were to die in the next 12 months' was reported by individual clinicians for between 6 and 43% of patients (mean 24 ± 9%). Nephrologists responded adversely for more patients than nurses did. Fifty-two patients died during the 12 months of follow-up. There were wide variations between clinicians in the predictive power of SQ responses. Mean odds ratios were significantly higher for nephrologists than for nurses. SQ responses of 49% of clinicians improved baseline models of 12-month mortality, more so for nephrologists (67%) than for senior nurses (50%) and nurses of lesser seniority (36%). Unit performance differed significantly. Agreements between clinicians on SQ responses improved the positive predictive value, i.e. the more clinicians agreed on an adverse response, the greater its predictive power.

Conclusion: SQ provides a unique contribution to the prediction of short-term prognosis in HD patients, though predictive power varies with clinical discipline, seniority and clinical setting. Agreements between clinicians on adverse responses may have clinical utility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Renal Dialysis / mortality*
  • Risk