Varying (preferred) levels of involvement in treatment decision-making in the intensive care unit before and during the COVID-19 pandemic: a mixed-methods study among relatives

Sophie C. Renckens*, H. Roeline Pasman, Zina Jorna, Hanna T. Klop, Chantal du Perron, Lia van Zuylen, Monique A. H. Steegers, Birkitt L. ten Tusscher, Margo M. C. van Mol, Lilian C. M. Vloet, Bregje D. Onwuteaka-Philipsen

*Corresponding author for this work

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BackgroundIn the intensive care unit (ICU) relatives play a crucial role as surrogate decision-makers, since most patients cannot communicate due to their illness and treatment. Their level of involvement in decision-making can affect their psychological well-being. During the COVID-19 pandemic, relatives' involvement probably changed. We aim to investigate relatives' involvement in decision-making in the ICU before and during the pandemic and their experiences and preferences in this regard.MethodsA mixed-methods study among relatives of ICU patients admitted to an ICU before or during the COVID-19 pandemic. Relatives in six ICUs completed a questionnaire (n = 329), including two items on decision-making. These were analysed using descriptive statistics and logistic regression analyses. Subsequently, relatives (n = 24) were interviewed about their experiences and preferences regarding decision-making. Thematic analysis was used for analysing the qualitative data.ResultsNearly 55% of the relatives indicated they were at least occasionally asked to be involved in important treatment decisions and of these relatives 97.1% reported to have had enough time to discuss questions and concerns when important decisions were to be made. During the first COVID-19 wave relatives were significantly less likely to be involved in decision-making compared to relatives from pre-COVID-19. The interviews showed that involvement varied from being informed about an already made decision to deliberation about the best treatment option. Preferences for involvement also varied, with some relatives preferring no involvement due to a perceived lack of expertise and others preferring an active role as the patient's advocate. Discussing a patient's quality of life was appreciated by relatives, and according to relatives healthcare professionals also found this valuable. In some cases the preferred and actual involvement was in discordance, preferring either a larger or a smaller role.ConclusionsAs treatment alignment with a patient's values and preferences and accordance between preferred and actual involvement in decision-making is very important, we suggest that the treatment decision-making process should start with discussions about a patient's quality of life, followed by tailoring the process to relatives' preferences as much as possible. Healthcare professionals should be aware of relatives' heterogeneous and possibly changing preferences regarding the decision-making process.
Original languageEnglish
Article number46
Number of pages14
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2024

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