Prospective Analysis of Life-Sustaining Therapy Discussions in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit: A Housestaff Perspective

Fredric M. Pieracci, Brant W. Ullery, Soumitra R. Eachempati, Elizabeth Nilson, Lynn J. Hydo, Philip S. Barie, Joseph J. Fins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background: Prospective data addressing end-of-life care in the surgical ICU are lacking. We determined factors surrounding life-sustaining therapy discussions (LSTDs) in our surgical ICU as experienced by housestaff. Study Design: Housestaff were interviewed daily about the occurrence of an LSTD between themselves and either a patient or surrogate. Patients for whom at least one LSTD occurred were compared with patients for whom an LSTD never occurred. Housestaff also completed a standardized questionnaire that captured events surrounding each LSTD. Results: Eighty LSTDs occurred among 50 patients. Lack of decision-making capacity (p = 0.04), age (p = 0.02), and acuity (p = 0.01) predicted independently the occurrence of an LSTD. Housestaff were significantly more likely to both report recent clinical deterioration (p < 0.01) and to assign a worse prognosis (p < 0.01) to patients for whom an LSTD occurred. Housestaff initiated the majority of LSTDs (70.0%) and usually did so because of clinical deterioration (60.7%); patient surrogates were most commonly believed to initiate LSTDs because of lack of improvement (60.1%). In no instance did a patient initiate an LSTD. For 39 of 50 patients (78.0%), changes in end-of-life care plans were eventually enacted as proposed originally. Housestaff reported that the likelihood of enactment depended on both the preexisting end-of-life care plan and the proposed change in end-of-life care plan. Conclusions: Age, acuity, and lack of decision-making capacity were the most important factors involved in the initiation of an LSTD. Housestaff reported that they initiated LSTDs for different reasons and proposed different end-of-life care plans relative to both patients and their surrogates. These disparities can contribute to failed enactment of proposed changes in end-of-life care plans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)468-476
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the American College of Surgeons
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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