Growing pressures to ration intensive care unit beds and services pose novel challenges to clinicians. Whereas the question of how to allocate scarce intensive care unit resources has received much attention, the question of whether to disclose these decisions to patients and surrogates has not been explored.
We explore how considerations of professionalism, dual agency, patients' and surrogates' preferences, beneficence, and healthcare efficiency and efficacy influence the propriety of disclosing rationing decisions in the intensive care unit.
There are compelling conceptual reasons to support a policy of routine disclosure. Systematic disclosure of prevailing intensive care unit norms for making allocation decisions, and of at least the most consequential specific decisions, can promote transparent, professional, and effective healthcare delivery. However, many empiric questions about how best to structure and implement disclosure processes remain to be answered. Specifically, research is needed to determine how best to operationalize disclosure processes so as to maximize prospective benefits to patients and surrogates and minimize burdens on clinicians and intensive care units.