Nonbeneficial treatment Canada: definitions, causes, and potential solutions from the perspective of healthcare practitioners*

Crit Care Med. 2015 Feb;43(2):270-81. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000000704.


Objective: Many healthcare workers are concerned about the provision of nonbeneficial treatment in the acute care setting. We sought to explore the perceptions of acute care practitioners to determine whether they perceived nonbeneficial treatment to be a problem, to generate an acceptable definition of nonbeneficial treatment, to learn about their perceptions of the impact and causes of nonbeneficial treatment, and the ways that they feel could reduce or resolve nonbeneficial treatment.

Design: National, bilingual, cross-sectional survey of a convenience sample of nursing and medical staff who provide direct patient care in acute medical wards or ICUs in Canada.

Main results: We received 688 responses (response rate 61%) from 11 sites. Seventy-four percent of respondents were nurses. Eighty-two percent of respondents believe that our current means of resolving nonbeneficial treatment are inadequate. The most acceptable definitions of nonbeneficial treatment were "advanced curative/life-prolonging treatments that would almost certainly result in a quality of life that the patient has previously stated that he/she would not want" (88% agreement) and "advanced curative/life-prolonging treatments that are not consistent with the goals of care (as indicated by the patient)" (83% agreement). Respondents most commonly believed that nonbeneficial treatment was caused by substitute decision makers who do not understand the limitations of treatment, or who cannot accept a poor prognosis (90% agreement for each cause), and 52% believed that nonbeneficial treatment was "often" or "always" continued until the patient died or was discharged from hospital. Respondents believed that nonbeneficial treatment was a common problem with a negative impact on all stakeholders (> 80%) and perceived that improved advance care planning and communication training would be the most effective (92% and 88%, respectively) and morally acceptable (95% and 92%, respectively) means to resolve the problem of nonbeneficial treatment.

Conclusions: Canadian nurses and physicians perceive that our current means of resolving nonbeneficial treatment are inadequate, and that we need to adopt new techniques of resolving nonbeneficial treatment. The most promising strategies to reduce nonbeneficial treatment are felt to be improved advance care planning and communication training for healthcare professionals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Advance Care Planning
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Canada
  • Communication
  • Critical Care / ethics
  • Critical Care / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Life Support Care / ethics
  • Life Support Care / psychology
  • Male
  • Medical Futility / ethics
  • Medical Futility / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life
  • Socioeconomic Factors