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J Perinatol. 2013 Apr;33(4):278-81. doi: 10.1038/jp.2012.103. Epub 2012 Aug 16.

Mother-clinician discussions in the neonatal intensive care unit: agree to disagree?

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  • 1Division of Neonatology, Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.



To compare mothers' and clinicians' understanding of an infant's illness and perceptions of discussion quality in the neonatal intensive care unit.


English-speaking mothers with an infant admitted to the intensive care unit for at least 48 h were interviewed using a semi-structured survey. The clinician whom the mother had spoken to and identified was also surveyed. Interviews were audiotaped and transcribed.


A total of 101 mother-clinician pairs were interviewed. Most mothers (89%) and clinicians (92%) felt that their discussions had gone well. Almost all mothers could identify one of their infant's diagnoses (100%) and treatments (93.4%). Mothers and clinicians disagreed on infant illness severity 45% of the time. The majority of mothers (62.5%) who disagreed with clinician estimate of infant illness severity believed their infant to be less sick than indicated by the clinician.


Mother-clinician satisfaction with communication does not ensure mother-clinician agreement about an infant's medical status.

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