Study objective: To determine how soon after admission to a medical ICU physicians and nurses decide that attempts at resuscitation are inappropriate and how frequently physicians and nurses disagree about do-not-resuscitate (DNR) decisions.
Design: Prospective, opinion survey of care providers.
Setting: Ten-bed adult medical ICU in a university-affiliated tertiary care referral hospital.
Patients: Consecutive adult medical ICU admissions.
Interventions: Over 10 months, physicians and nurses were surveyed independently every day regarding their opinions about DNR issues on each patient in the ICU.
Measurements: ICU day when DNR order was deemed appropriate by either physicians or nurses.
Results: Of 368 consecutive admissions, 84 (23%) patients were designated DNR during their ICU stay. In 6 of these 84 cases (7%), the responsible nurse did not agree that DNR orders were appropriate. In the remaining 78 patients designated DNR, the median time for physicians to recommend DNR (median, 1 day; range, 0 to 22 days) was not significantly different from the median time for nurses (median, 1 day; range, 0 to 13 days); (p=0.45). For the 284 patients not designated DNR, physicians and nurses both believed DNR was appropriate in 14 cases (5%), but a DNR order was not written five times (2%) because there was not time to do so and nine times (3%) because patient or family did not concur. Physicians and nurses disagreed about a DNR recommendation in 33 of the 284 patients not designated DNR (12%). Physicians were more likely to believe that DNR was appropriate than were nurses (p<0.0005), with physicians alone recommending DNR 29 times (10%) and nurses alone favoring DNR in four cases (1%).
Conclusions: At our institution, recognition of DNR appropriateness by nurses and physicians occurs over a similar time frame. However, physicians are more likely to recommend DNR in cases of disagreement between nurses and physicians.