End-of-life care in the cardiac intensive care unit: a contemporary view from the Critical Care Cardiology Trials Network (CCCTN) Registry

Eur Heart J Acute Cardiovasc Care. 2022 Mar 16;11(3):190-197. doi: 10.1093/ehjacc/zuab121.


Aims: Increases in life expectancy, comorbidities, and survival with complex cardiovascular conditions have changed the clinical profile of the patients in cardiac intensive care units (CICUs). In this environment, palliative care (PC) services are increasingly important. However, scarce information is available about the delivery of PC in CICUs.

Methods and results: The Critical Care Cardiology Trials Network (CCCTN) Registry is a network of tertiary care CICUs in North America. Between 2017 and 2020, up to 26 centres contributed an annual 2-month snapshot of all consecutive medical CICU admissions. We captured code status at admission and the decision for comfort measures only (CMO) before all deaths in the CICU. Of 13 422 patients, 10% died in the CICU and 2.6% were discharged to palliative hospice. Of patients who died in the CICU, 68% were CMO at death. In the CMO group, only 13% were do not resuscitate/do not intubate at admission. The median time from CICU admission to CMO decision was 3.4 days (25th-75th percentiles: 1.2-7.7) and ≥7 days in 27%. Time from CMO decision to death was <24 h in 88%, with a median of 3.8 h (25th-75th 1.0-10.3). Before a CMO decision, 78% received mechanical ventilation and 26% mechanical circulatory support. A PC provider team participated in the care of 41% of patients who died.

Conclusions: In a contemporary CICU registry, comfort measures preceded death in two-thirds of cases, frequently without PC involvement. The high utilization of advanced intensive care unit therapies and lengthy times to a CMO decision highlight a potential opportunity for early engagement of PC teams in CICU.

Keywords: Cardiac intensive care unit; Comfort measures; End-of-life care; Palliative care.

MeSH terms

  • Cardiology*
  • Coronary Care Units
  • Critical Care
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Terminal Care*