Use of Combined Do-Not-Resuscitate/Do-Not Intubate Orders Without Documentation of Intubation Preferences: A Retrospective Observational Study at an Academic Level 1 Trauma Center Code Status and Intubation Preferences

Chest. 2020 Jul;158(1):292-297. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2020.02.020. Epub 2020 Feb 25.


Background: Combining orders for do-not-resuscitate (DNR) for cardiac arrest with do-not-intubate (DNI) orders into a DNR/DNI code status is not evidence-based practice and may violate patient autonomy and informed consent when providers discuss intubation only in the context of CPR.

Research question: How often do providers refer to patients with a DNR order as "DNR/DNI" without documentation of refusal of intubation for non-arrest situations?

Methods: Retrospective observational study of adults (18 years of age or older) hospitalized in a Level 1 trauma/academic hospital between July 2017 and June 2018 inclusive with DNR orders placed during hospitalization.

Results: Of 422 hospitalized adults with DNR orders, 261 (61.9%) had code status written in progress notes as DNR/DNI. Providers' use of the term DNR/DNI in progress notes was significantly (OR, 2.21; 99% CI, 1.12-4.37) more common on medical hospital services (hospitalist, family medicine, internal medicine) than on nonmedical ward services (medical/surgical ICUs, surgery, psychiatry, neurology services). Of 261 "DNR/DNI" patients, providers did not document informed refusal of intubation for nonarrest situations for 68 (26.0%) of patients. By comparison, of 161 patients for whom providers documented code status in progress notes as DNR alone, 69 (42.9%) did have documentation of refusal of intubation for nonarrest events. Therefore, if a DNR/DNI code status was used in a nonarrest emergency to determine whether to intubate a patient, 68 (16.1%) of 422 patients could inappropriately be denied intubation without informed refusal (or despite their informed acceptance), and 69 (16.4%) could inappropriately be intubated despite their documented refusal of intubation.

Conclusions: Conflation of DNR and DNI into DNR/DNI does not reliably distinguish patients who refuse or accept intubation for indications other than cardiac arrest, and thus may inappropriately deny desired intubation for those who would accept it, and inappropriately impose intubation on patients who would not.

Keywords: cardiopulmonary resuscitation; end-of-life; intubation; medical ethics.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Documentation*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization
  • Humans
  • Intubation, Intratracheal*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Preference*
  • Resuscitation Orders*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Trauma Centers