BACKGROUND: Nurses working in intensive care units (ICUs) frequently care for patients and their families at the end-of-life (EOL). Providing high quality EOL care is important for both patients and families, yet ICU nurses face many obstacles that hinder EOL care. Researchers have identified various ICU nurse-perceived obstacles, but no studies have been found addressing the progress that has been made over the last 17 years.
OBJECTIVE: To determine the most common and current obstacles in EOL care as perceived by ICU nurses and then to evaluate whether or not meaningful changes have occurred since data were first gathered in 1998.
METHODS: A quantitative-qualitative mixed methods design was used. A random, geographically dispersed sample of 2,000 members of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses was surveyed.
RESULTS: Five obstacle items increased in mean score and rank as compared to 1999 data including: (1) family not understanding what the phrase "life-saving measures" really means; (2) providing life-saving measures at families' requests despite patient's advance directive listing no such care; (3) family not accepting patient's poor prognosis; (4) family members fighting about use of life support; and, (5) not enough time to provide EOL care because the nurse is consumed with life-saving measures attempting to save the patient's life. Five obstacle items decreased in mean score and rank compared to 1999 data including (1) physicians differing in opinion about care of the patient; (2) family and friends who continually call the nurse rather than calling the designated family member; (3) physicians who are evasive and avoid families; (4) nurses having to deal with angry families; and, (5) nurses not knowing their patient's wishes regarding continuing with tests and treatments.
CONCLUSIONS: Obstacles in EOL care, as perceived by critical care nurses, still exist. Family-related obstacles have increased over time and may not be easily overcome as each family, dealing with a dying family member in an ICU, likely has never experienced a similar situation. Based on the current top five obstacles, recommendations for possible areas of focus may include (1) improved nursing assessment regarding the health literacy of families followed with directed, appropriate, and specific EOL information, (2) improved care coordination between physicians and other health care providers to facilitate sharing care plans, (3) advanced directives that are followed as written by patients, (4) designated family contact communicating with family and friends regarding patient information, and, finally, (5) earlier, transparent discussions of patient prognoses as disease processes advance and patient conditions deteriorate.



College and Department

Nursing; Nursing



Date Submitted


Document Type





obstacles, intensive care units, end-of-life care, critical-care nurse



Included in

Nursing Commons