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Variation in timing of decisions to withdraw lifesustaining treatment in adult ICU patients from three centres in different geographies: Do clinical factors explain the difference?

W H Seligman, N Sadovnikoff, I A Joubert, P Hutton, M Flint, A M Courtwright, K B Krishnamurthy, A M Joseph, S McKechnie

Abstract


Background. Decisions to withdraw life-sustaining treatment (WLST) are common in intensive care units (ICUs). Clinical and non-clinical factors are important, although the extent to which each plays a part is uncertain. Objectives. To determine whether the timing of decisions to WLST varies between ICUs in a single centre in three countries and whether differences in timing are explained by differences in clinical decision-making.

Methods. The study involved a convenience sample of three adult ICUs – one in each of the UK, USA and South Africa (SA). Data were prospectively collected on patients whose life-sustaining treatment was withdrawn over three months. The timing of decisions was collected, as were patients’ premorbid functional status and illness severity 24 hours prior to decision to WLST. Multivariate analysis was used to identify factors associated with decisions to WLST. Clinicians participated in interviews involving hypothetical case studies devoid of non-clinical factors. Results. Deaths following WLST accounted for 23% of all deaths during the study period at the USA site v. 37% (UK site) and 70% (SA site) (p<0.0010 across the three sites). Length of stay (LOS) prior to WLST decision varied between sites. Controlling for performance status, age, and illness severity, study site predicted LOS prior to decision (p<0.0010). In the hypothetical cases, LOS prior to WLST was higher for USA clinicians (p<0.017).

Conclusion. There is variation in the proportion of ICU patients in whom WLST occurs and the timing of these decisions between sites; differences in clinical decision-making may explain the variation observed, although clinical and non-clinical factors are inextricably linked. Keywords: intensive care, ethics, withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment.


Authors' affiliations

W H Seligman, Imperial School of Anaesthesia, London, UK

N Sadovnikoff, Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

I A Joubert, Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine, Division of Critical Care, University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, South Africa

P Hutton, Adult Intensive Care Unit, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford, UK

M Flint, Department of Anaesthesia and Perioperative Medicine, Division of Critical Care, University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital, South Africa

A M Courtwright, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA

K B Krishnamurthy, Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

A M Joseph, Department of Critical Care Medicine, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA

S McKechnie, Adult Intensive Care Unit, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Oxford, UK

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Cite this article

Southern African Journal of Critical Care 2020;36(1):18-22. DOI:10.7196/SAJCC.2020.v36i1.393

Article History

Date submitted: 2020-07-30
Date published: 2020-07-30

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