Development and evaluation of an interprofessional communication intervention to improve family outcomes in the ICU

J. Randall Curtis, Paul S. Ciechanowski, Lois Downey, Julia Gold, Elizabeth L. Nielsen, Sarah E. Shannon, Patsy D. Treece, Jessica P. Young, Ruth A. Engelberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


The intensive care unit (ICU), where death is common and even survivors of an ICU stay face the risk of long-term morbidity and re-admissions to the ICU, represents an important setting for improving communication about palliative and end-of-life care. Communication about the goals of care in this setting should be a high priority since studies suggest that the current quality of ICU communication is often poor and is associated with psychological distress among family members of critically ill patients. This paper describes the development and evaluation of an intervention designed to improve the quality of care in the ICU by improving communication among the ICU team and with family members of critically ill patients. We developed a multi-faceted, interprofessional intervention based on self-efficacy theory. The intervention involves a "communication facilitator" - a nurse or social worker - trained to facilitate communication among the interprofessional ICU team and with the critically ill patient's family. The facilitators are trained using three specific content areas: a) evidence-based approaches to improving clinician-family communication in the ICU, b) attachment theory allowing clinicians to adapt communication to meet individual family member's communication needs, and c) mediation to facilitate identification and resolution of conflict including clinician-family, clinician-clinician, and intra-family conflict. The outcomes assessed in this randomized trial focus on psychological distress among family members including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder at 3 and 6. months after the ICU stay. This manuscript also reports some of the lessons that we have learned early in this study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1245-1254
Number of pages10
JournalContemporary Clinical Trials
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Communication
  • Critical care
  • Palliative care
  • Randomized trial

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)


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