Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Institutional members access full text with Ovid®

Changing the Culture Around End-of-Life Care in the Trauma Intensive Care Unit

Mosenthal, Anne C. MD, FACS; Murphy, Patricia A. PhD; Barker, Lyn K. MA; Lavery, Robert MA; Retano, Angela MA; Livingston, David H. MD

The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care: June 2008 - Volume 64 - Issue 6 - p 1587-1593
doi: 10.1097/TA.0b013e318174f112
Original Articles

Background: Ten percent to 20% of trauma patients admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) will die from their injuries. Providing appropriate end-of-life care in this setting is difficult and often late in the patients’ course. Patients are young, prognosis uncertain, and conflict common around goals of care. We hypothesized that early, structured communication in the trauma ICU would improve end-of-life care practice.

Methods: Prospective, observational, prepost study on consecutive trauma patients admitted to the ICU before and after a structured palliative care intervention was integrated into standard ICU care. The program included part I, early (at admission) family bereavement support, assessment of prognosis, and patient preferences, and part II (within 72 hours) interdisciplinary family meeting. Data on goals of care discussions, do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders and withdrawal of life support (W/D) were collected from physician rounds, family meetings, and medical records.

Results: Eighty-three percent of patients received part I and 69% part II intervention. Discussion of goals of care by physicians on rounds increased from 4% to 36% of patient-days. During intervention, rates of mortality (14%), DNR (43%), and W/D (24%) were unchanged, but DNR orders and W/D were instituted earlier in hospital course. ICU length of stay was decreased in patients who died.

Conclusions: Structured communication between physician and families resulted in earlier consensus around goals of care for dying trauma patients. Integration of early palliative care alongside aggressive trauma care can be accomplished without change in mortality and has the ability to change the culture of care in the trauma ICU.

From the Division of Trauma/Critical Care (A.C.M., R.L., D.H.L.) and Division of Palliative Care (A.C.M., P.A.M., L.K.B., A.R.), Department of Surgery, New Jersey Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark, New Jersey.

Received for publication September 25, 2006.

Accepted for publication March 17, 2008.

Supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Promoting Excellence in End of Life Care.

Presented at the 65th Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, September 28–30, 2006, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Address for reprints: Anne C. Mosenthal, MD, FACS, Department of Surgery, Division of Trauma/Critical Care, New Jersey Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, 150 Bergen Street, Mezzanine 233, Newark, NJ 07103; email:

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.