Preliminary report of the integration of a palliative care team into an intensive care unit

Sean O'Mahony, Janet McHenry, Arthur E. Blank, Daniel Snow, Serife Eti Karakas, Gabriella Santoro, Peter Selwyn, Vladimir Kvetan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

149 Scopus citations


Nearly half of Americans who die in hospitals spend time in the intensive care unit (ICU) in the last 3 days of life. Minority patients who die in the ICU are less likely to formalize advance directives and surviving family members report lower satisfaction with the provision of information and sensitivity to their cultural traditions at the end-of-life. This is a descriptive report of a convenience sample of 157 consecutive patients served by a palliative care team which was integrated into the operations of an ICU at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, from August 2005 until August 2007. The team included an advance practice nurse (APN) and social worker. A separate case-control study was conducted comparing the length of hospital stay for persons who died in the ICU during the final 6 months of the project, prior to and post-palliative care consultation for 22 patients at the hospital campus where the project team was located versus 24 patients at the other campus. Pharmaco-economic data were evaluated for 22 persons who died with and 43 who died without a palliative care consultation at the intervention campus ICU to evaluate whether the project intervention was associated with an increase in the use of pain medications or alterations in the use of potentially non-beneficial life-prolonging treatments in persons dying in the ICU. Data was abstracted from the medical record with a standardized chart abstraction instrument by an unblinded research assistant. Interviews were conducted with a sample of family members and ICU nurses rating the quality of end-of-life care in the ICU with the Quality of Dying and Death in the ICU instrument (ICUQODD), and a family focus group was also conducted. Forty percent of patients were Caucasian, 35% were African American or Afro-Caribbean, 22% Hispanic and 3% were Asian or other. Exploration of the patients and families needs identified significant spiritual needs in 62.4% of cases. Education on the death process was provided to 85% of families by the project team. Twenty-nine percent of patients were disconnected from mechanical ventilators following consultation with the Palliative Care Service (PCS), 15.9% of patients discontinued the use of inotropic support, 15.3% stopped artificial nutrition, 6.4% stopped dialysis and 2.5% discontinued artificial hydration. Recommendations on pain management were made for 51% of the projects patients and symptom management for 52% of patients. The project was associated with an increase in the rate of the formalization of advance directives. Thirty-three percent of the patients who received PCS consultations had do not resuscitate orders in place prior to consultation and 83.4% had do not resuscitate orders after the intervention. The project team referred 80 (51%) of the project patients to hospice and 55 (35%) patients were enrolled on hospice, primarily at the medical center. The mean time from admission to palliative care consultation at the project site was 2.8 days versus 15.5 days at the other campus (p = 0.0184). Median survival times from admission to the medical center were not significantly different when stratified by palliative care consultation status: 12 days for the control group (95% CI 8-18) and 13.5 days for the intervention group (95% CI 8-20). Median charges for the use of opioid medications were higher (p = 0.01) for the intervention group but lower for use of laboratory (p = 0.004) and radiology tests (p = 0.027). We conclude that the integration of palliative care experts into the operation of critical care units is of benefit to patients, families and critical care clinicians. Preliminary evidence suggest that such models may be associated with improved quality of life, higher rates of formalization of advance directives and utilization of hospices, as well as lower use of certain non-beneficial life-prolonging treatments for critically ill patients who are at the end of life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)154-165
Number of pages12
JournalPalliative Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • End-of-life care
  • ICU deaths
  • ICU palliative care team
  • Intensive care unit (ICU) deaths
  • Palliative
  • Palliative care team

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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