A study of proactive ethics consultation for critically and terminally ill patients with extended lengths of stay

Crit Care Med. 1998 Feb;26(2):252-9. doi: 10.1097/00003246-199802000-00020.


Objective: To assess the effect of proactive ethics consultation on documented patient care communications and on decisions regarding high-risk intensive care unit (ICU) patients.

Design: Prospective, controlled study.

Patients: Ninety-nine ICU patients treated with >96 hrs of continuous mechanical ventilation.

Interventions: Three groups were compared: a) a baseline group enrolled in the study prior to the establishment of the hospital's ethics consultation service; b) a control group where ethics consultation was at the option of the care team; and c) a treatment group where the ethics service intervened proactively after patients received >96 hrs of continuous mechanical ventilation. Patient care planning, for subjects in the proactive group, was reviewed with physicians and with the care team using a standardized set of prompting questions designed to focus discussion of key decision-making and communication issues for critically and terminally ill patients. Issues and concerns were identified and action strategies were suggested to those in charge of the patient's care. Formal ethics consultation, using a patient care conference model, was made available upon request.

Measurements and main results: Post discharge chart reviews of the three groups indicated no statistically significant differences on important demographic variables including age, gender, and acuity. Comparisons of survivors and nonsurvivors for the three groups indicated, at statistically significant levels, more frequent and documented communications, more frequent decisions to forego life-sustaining treatment, and reduced length of stay in the ICU for the proactive consultation group.

Conclusion: Proactive ethics consultation for high-risk patient populations offers a promising approach to improving decision-making and communication and reducing length of ICU stay for dying patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Communication
  • Critical Illness / therapy*
  • Ethics, Medical*
  • Euthanasia, Passive / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Length of Stay* / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Referral and Consultation* / statistics & numerical data
  • Regression Analysis
  • Terminal Care* / statistics & numerical data