Objective: To describe the reasons for eventual dissatisfaction among the families of patients who died in the intensive care unit (ICU), regarding both the assistance offered during the patient's stay in the hospital and the information received from the medical staff.
Design: Cross-sectional descriptive study, which was conducted after a survey using a questionnaire.
Setting: Interdisciplinary ICU (n = 8 beds) at San Giovanni Hospital in Bellinzona (CH).
Subjects: Three-hundred ninety families of patients who died in the ICU.
Measurements and main results: A postal questionnaire (n = 43 questions) was sent to the families of 390 patients who died in the ICU during 8 yrs (1981 to 1989). The results referred to 123 replies: a) 82.6% of the respondents expressed no criticism of the patient's hospital stay; b) 90% considered the patient's treatment was adequate; c) 17% felt that the information received concerning diagnosis was insufficient or unclear; and d) 30% (particularly close relatives and those relatives who were informed of the death by telephone and not in person) expressed dissatisfaction regarding the information received on the cause of death.
Conclusions: Our survey found that the relatives of patients who died were most dissatisfied with the care received according to: a) the type of death (e.g., sudden death vs. death preceded by a gradual deterioration in the patient's condition); and b) the manner in which the relatives were notified of the death (in person vs. by telephone). The personal characteristics of the people interviewed, such as gender and the closeness of their relationship to the deceased, also seem to have some bearing on the opinions expressed. A high percentage of respondents were satisfied with the treatment received by their dying relative and the information conveyed by caregivers. Nevertheless, the dissatisfaction expressed by some respondents indicates a need for improvement, especially in communicating information to the relatives of these patients.