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Decision-making at the limit of viability: differing perceptions and opinions between neonatal physicians and nurses


Bucher, Hans Ulrich; Klein, Sabine D; Hendriks, Manya J; Baumann-Hölzle, Ruth; Berger, Thomas M; Streuli, Jürg C; Fauchère, Jean-Claude (2018). Decision-making at the limit of viability: differing perceptions and opinions between neonatal physicians and nurses. BMC Pediatrics, 18:81.

Abstract

BACKGROUND In the last 20 years, the chances for intact survival for extremely preterm infants have increased in high income countries. Decisions about withholding or withdrawing intensive care remain a major challenge in infants born at the limits of viability. Shared decision-making regarding these fragile infants between health care professionals and parents has become the preferred model today. However, there is an ongoing ethical debate on how decisions regarding life-sustaining treatment should be reached and who should have the final word when health care professionals and parents do not agree. We designed a survey among neonatologists and neonatal nurses to analyze practices, difficulties and parental involvement in end-of-life decisions for extremely preterm infants. METHODS All 552 physicians and nurses with at least 12 months work experience in level III neonatal intensive care units (NICU) in Switzerland were invited to participate in an online survey with 50 questions. Differences between neonatologists and NICU nurses and between language regions were explored. RESULTS Ninety six of 121 (79%) physicians and 302 of 431(70%) nurses completed the online questionnaire. The following difficulties with end-of-life decision-making were reported more frequently by nurses than physicians: insufficient time for decision-making, legal constraints and lack of consistent unit policies. Nurses also mentioned a lack of solidarity in our society and shortage of services for disabled more often than physicians. In the context of limiting intensive care in selected circumstances, nurses considered withholding tube feedings and respiratory support less acceptable than physicians. Nurses were more reluctant to give parents full authority to decide on the course of action for their infant. In contrast to professional category (nurse or physician), language region, professional experience and religion had little influence if any on the answers given. CONCLUSIONS Physicians and nurses differ in many aspects of how and by whom end-of-life decisions should be made in extremely preterm infants. The divergencies between nurses and physicians may be due to differences in ethics education, varying focus in patient care and direct exposure to the patients. Acknowledging these differences is important to avoid potential conflicts within the neonatal team but also with parents in the process of end-of-life decision-making in preterm infants born at the limits of viability.

Abstract

BACKGROUND In the last 20 years, the chances for intact survival for extremely preterm infants have increased in high income countries. Decisions about withholding or withdrawing intensive care remain a major challenge in infants born at the limits of viability. Shared decision-making regarding these fragile infants between health care professionals and parents has become the preferred model today. However, there is an ongoing ethical debate on how decisions regarding life-sustaining treatment should be reached and who should have the final word when health care professionals and parents do not agree. We designed a survey among neonatologists and neonatal nurses to analyze practices, difficulties and parental involvement in end-of-life decisions for extremely preterm infants. METHODS All 552 physicians and nurses with at least 12 months work experience in level III neonatal intensive care units (NICU) in Switzerland were invited to participate in an online survey with 50 questions. Differences between neonatologists and NICU nurses and between language regions were explored. RESULTS Ninety six of 121 (79%) physicians and 302 of 431(70%) nurses completed the online questionnaire. The following difficulties with end-of-life decision-making were reported more frequently by nurses than physicians: insufficient time for decision-making, legal constraints and lack of consistent unit policies. Nurses also mentioned a lack of solidarity in our society and shortage of services for disabled more often than physicians. In the context of limiting intensive care in selected circumstances, nurses considered withholding tube feedings and respiratory support less acceptable than physicians. Nurses were more reluctant to give parents full authority to decide on the course of action for their infant. In contrast to professional category (nurse or physician), language region, professional experience and religion had little influence if any on the answers given. CONCLUSIONS Physicians and nurses differ in many aspects of how and by whom end-of-life decisions should be made in extremely preterm infants. The divergencies between nurses and physicians may be due to differences in ethics education, varying focus in patient care and direct exposure to the patients. Acknowledging these differences is important to avoid potential conflicts within the neonatal team but also with parents in the process of end-of-life decision-making in preterm infants born at the limits of viability.

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Contributors:Swiss Neonatal End-of-Life Study Group
Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > University Hospital Zurich > Clinic for Neonatology
04 Faculty of Medicine > University Children's Hospital Zurich > Medical Clinic
Dewey Decimal Classification:610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:22 February 2018
Deposited On:25 Oct 2018 09:53
Last Modified:24 Sep 2019 23:49
Publisher:BioMed Central
ISSN:1471-2431
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1186/s12887-018-1040-z
Official URL:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5822553/
PubMed ID:29471821

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