Study objectives: The purpose of this study was to determine whether the timing of prognostic information delivery by physicians is associated with caregiver satisfaction with communication or decision making in the ICU.
Design: Multicenter, prospective, longitudinal observational study.
Setting: Medical and surgical ICUs in a community and university hospital.
Participants: Decision makers for critically ill patients.
Measurements and results: Longitudinal surveys assessed both actual and desired frequency of communication with physicians, timing and content of physician prognosis, and subject satisfaction with physician communication and subject’s role in decision making. Seventy subjects were enrolled and completed 216 surveys. Fifty-seven caregivers (81%) received prognostic information during the ICU stay, with a mean time between ICU admission and provision of prognostic information (prognostic interval) of 1.7 ± 2.8 days (median, 1 day). This interval was not associated with patient age, severity of illness, clinical service, hospital, socioeconomic status, or prior patient ICU admission. A shorter prognostic interval was associated with increased satisfaction with communication, with a trend toward statistical significance (p = 0.06). Both the measured communication rate (p < 0.001) and subjects’ desired communication rate with physicians decreased over time in the ICU (p < 0.001). Although 78% of subjects rated their overall satisfaction with frequency of communication as “good,” “very good,” or “excellent,” their satisfaction with communication frequency decreased with time in the ICU (p = 0.006).
Conclusions: Families of critically ill patients were generally satisfied with communication in the ICU; however, 19% were unable to recall receiving any prognostic information from physicians. Providing all decision makers with some prognostic information, even if it consists of a statement of uncertainty (as was commonly done in this study), may further improve satisfaction with ICU care. A widening gap between the actual and desired communication rate may result in a decline in communication satisfaction over the course of the ICU stay. This suggests that the capacity of physicians and other ICU personnel to manage families’ communication expectations may positively influence caregiver satisfaction.