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Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2010 Oct 1;182(7):905-9. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201002-0262OC. Epub 2010 Jun 10.

A randomized trial of two methods to disclose prognosis to surrogate decision makers in intensive care units.

Author information

1
Department of Surgery, University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, USA.

Abstract

RATIONALE:

Surrogate decision makers and clinicians often have discordant perceptions about a patient's prognosis. There is a paucity of empirical data to guide communication about prognosis.

OBJECTIVES:

To assess: (1) whether numeric or qualitative statements more reliably convey prognostic estimates; and (2) whether surrogates believe physicians' prognostic estimates.

METHODS:

A total of 169 surrogate decision makers for intensive care unit patients were randomized to view 1 of 2 versions of a video portraying a simulated family conference involving a hypothetical patient. The videos varied only by whether prognosis was conveyed in numeric terms ("10% chance of surviving") or qualitative terms ("very unlikely" to survive).

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS:

We assessed: (1) surrogates' personal estimates of the patient's prognosis; and (2) surrogates' understanding of the physician's prognostic estimate. Neither surrogates' personal estimates nor their understanding of the physician's prognostication differed when prognosis was conveyed numerically versus qualitatively (surrogates' estimate, 22 ± 23% chance of survival versus 26 ± 24%, P = 0.26; understanding of physician's estimate, 17 ± 22% chance of survival versus 16 ± 17%, P = 0.62). One in five surrogates estimated the patient's prognosis was greater than 20% more optimistic than the physician's prognostication. Less trust in physicians was associated with larger discrepancies between surrogates' personal estimates and their understanding of the physician's estimate.

CONCLUSIONS:

Neither numeric nor qualitative statements reliably convey news of a poor prognosis to surrogates in intensive care units. Many surrogates do not view physicians' prognostications as absolutely accurate. Factors other than ineffective communication may contribute to physician-surrogate discordance about prognosis.

PMID:
20538959
PMCID:
PMC2970862
DOI:
10.1164/rccm.201002-0262OC
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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