Objective: To study the current practice of documenting decisions to forego life-sustaining treatment in an intensive care unit (ICU), using the Swedish Medical Records Act as a frame of reference.
Setting: The ICU at Malmoe General Hospital, Sweden.
Materials: The medical records of the first 600 cases treated in the ICU in 1992.
Methods: Analysis of documents and informal observational procedures.
Results: Decisions to forego life-sustaining treatment were documented in the medical records of 34 patients, 17 of whom died in the ICU. In many cases, the treatment is specified, but often it is only rather vaguely described. The main reason for foregoing treatment is poor prognosis. There is no indication that the decisions had been discussed with the patients. In 18 of the 34 medical records, there are notes indicating that relatives were informed about the decision. Notes in most of the 34 medical records imply that joint deliberation took place between the anaesthesiologists in the ICU and the other physician(s) responsible for the treatment of the patient.
Conclusion: The medical records give a fairly accurate picture of the frequency with which such decisions are made at this particular ICU, although the number might be somewhat underestimated. However, the content of the documentation is rather scanty and does not fully satisfy the requirements of the Swedish Medical Records Act. Further studies are needed to warrant any generalization.