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Experiences of Slovene ICU Physicians with End-of-Life Decision Making: A Nation-Wide Survey

Urh Groselj, Miha Orazem, Maja Kanic, Gaj Vidmar, Stefan Grosek

Department of Pediatric Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolic Diseases, University Children’s Hospital, UMC Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Med Sci Monit 2014; 20:2007-2012

DOI: 10.12659/MSM.891029

Available online:

Published: 2014-10-21

Background: Advances in intensive care medicine have enormously improved ability to successfully treat seriously ill patients. However, intensive treatment and prolongation of life is not always in the patient’s best interest, and many ethical dilemmas arise in end-of-life (EOL) situations. We aimed to assess intensive care unit (ICU) physicians’ experiences with EOL decision making and to compare the responses according to ICU type.
Material and Methods: A cross-sectional survey was performed in all 35 Slovene ICUs, using a questionnaire designed to assess ICU physician experiences with EOL decision making, focusing on limitations of life-sustaining treatments (LST).
Results: We distributed 370 questionnaires (approximating the number of Slovene ICU physicians) and 267 were returned (72% response rate). The great majority of ICU physicians reported using do-not-resuscitate (DNR) orders (97%), withholding LST (94%), and withdrawing antibiotics (86%) or inotropes (95%). Fewer ICU physicians reported withdrawing mechanical ventilation (52%) or extubating patients (27%). Hydration was reported to be only rarely terminated (76% of participants reported never terminating it). In addition, 63% of participants had never encountered advance directives, and 39% reported to “never” or “rarely” participating in decision making with relatives of patients. Nurses were reported to be “never” or “rarely” involved in the EOL decision making process by 84% of participants.
Conclusions: Limitation of LST was regularly used by Slovene ICU physicians. DNR orders and withholding of LST were the most commonly used measures. Hydration was only rarely terminated. In addition, use of advance directives was almost non-existent in practice, and the patients’ relatives and nurses only infrequently participated in the decision making.

Keywords: Decision Making, Cross-Sectional Studies, Intensive Care Units - manpower, Medical Staff, Hospital - psychology, Questionnaires, Slovenia, Terminal Care