Objective: To evaluate if a family presence educational intervention during brain death evaluation improves understanding of brain death without affecting psychological distress.
Design: Randomized controlled trial.
Setting: Four ICUs at an academic tertiary care center.
Subjects: Immediate family members of patients suspected to have suffered brain death.
Interventions: Subjects were group randomized to presence or absence at bedside throughout the brain death evaluation with a trained chaperone. All randomized subjects were administered a validated “understanding brain death” survey before and after the intervention. Subjects were assessed for psychological well-being between 30 and 90 days after the intervention.
Measurements and Main Results: Follow-up assessment of psychological well-being was performed using the Impact of Event Scale and General Health Questionnaire. Brain death understanding, Impact of Event Scale, and General Health Questionnaire scores were analyzed using Wilcoxon nonparametric tests. Analyses were adjusted for within family correlation. Fifty-eight family members of 17 patients undergoing brain death evaluation were enrolled: 38 family members were present for 11 brain death evaluations and 20 family members were absent for six brain death evaluations. Baseline understanding scores were similar between groups (median 3.0 [presence group] vs 2.5 [control], p = 0.482). Scores increased by a median of 2 (interquartile range, 1–2) if present versus 0 (interquartile range, 0–0) if absent (p < 0.001). Sixty-six percent of those in the intervention group achieved perfect postintervention “understanding” scores, compared with 20% of subjects who were not present (p = 0.02). Median Impact of Event Scale and General Health Questionnaire scores were similar between groups at follow-up (Impact of Event Scale: present = 20.5, absent = 23.5, p = 0.211; General Health Questionnaire: present = 13.5, absent = 13.0, p = 0.250).
Conclusions: Family presence during brain death evaluation improves understanding of brain death with no apparent adverse impact on psychological well-being. Family presence during brain death evaluation is feasible and safe.