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Aust Crit Care. 2005 Nov;18(4):146, 148-51.

Dealing with death: an audit of family bereavement programs in Australian intensive care units.

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Department of Intensive Care, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, QLD.


Patient death in Intensive Care Units (ICU) can be sudden and unexpected, leading to emotionally charged situations and life changing circumstances for family members. Supporting families during and after this critical period is particularly challenging for ICU nurses who often feel dissatisfied with the way they deal with the situation. Bereavement programs in various areas of nursing have been reported to be beneficial in promoting normal grief patterns. There is, however, a lack of research in the area of evaluation of bereavement programs in adult ICUs. This paper presents the results of an Australia-wide audit on current practices in the area of bereavement programs within adult ICUs. Surveys were sent to 117 adult Australian ICUs; 99 surveys were returned completed (84.6% response rate). It was identified that most surveyed units offer minimal components of bereavement programs, such as viewing of the deceased and communicating with family members. Less than one third (n=26) provide additional follow-up services in the form of telephone calls and sympathy cards or referral to additional services. Ten units employ some form of program evaluation. Verbal feedback from staff and families is the primary assessment method. Over half of responding ICUs indicated they are considering or interested in providing a bereavement program in their unit. This study highlights the need for research-based data to support the introduction or deletion of strategies for bereavement programs using family-centred outcome measures. ICU nurses are interested in this area of clinical practice and require considerable support. It is recommended that this support can come via postgraduate and on-going education, hospital policies and procedures.

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