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Communication with family members of patients dying in the intensive care unit

Azoulay, Élie; Pochard, Frédéric

Current Opinion in Critical Care: December 2003 - Volume 9 - Issue 6 - p 545-550
Ethical, legal, and organizational issues in the intensive care unit

In intensive care units the patient is usually unconscious and/or incompetent so that the relationship shifts to the family. Interactions between caregivers and families usually follow one of three models. In the first model, a family representative receives information from the caregivers but does not participate in decisions or physical care. In the second model, the ICU caregivers attempt to provide care consistent with the patient's wishes and values as described by the family. In the third model, the family members communicate their own wishes, provide physical care to the patient, and participate in medical decision-making. After a description of the studies that measured the quality of information provided to ICU families and by discussing the extent to which respecting the principle of patient autonomy is feasible in the ICU, we will review the literature on studies that identified specific needs of families of dying patients and specific challenges faced by intensivists as they seek to inform the families of dying patients. The need for family-centered care and for a better communication within the patient-family-caregiver trio is also highlighted.

Service de Réanimation Médicale Hôpital Saint-Louis, Paris, France

Correspondence to Docteur Élie Azoulay, Service de Réanimation Médicale, Hôpital Saint-Louis, 1 Avenue Claude Vellefaux, 75010 Paris, France

Tel: 33 1 42499421; fax: 33 1 42499426; e-mail:

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.