critical care nursing, end-of-life care, health care providers


Background Critical care nurses routinely care for dying patients. Research on obstacles in providing end-of-life care has been conducted for more than 20 years, but change in such obstacles over time has not been examined.

Objective To determine whether the magnitude scores of obstacles and helpful behaviors regarding end-of-life care have changed over time.

Methods In this cross-sectional survey study, questionnaires were sent to 2000 randomly selected members of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Obstacle and helpful behavior items were analyzed using mean magnitude scores. Current data were compared with data gathered in 1999.

Results Of the 2000 questionnaires mailed, 509 usable responses were received. Six obstacle magnitude scores increased significantly over time, of which 4 were related to family issues (not accepting the poor prognosis, intrafamily fighting, overriding the patient’s end-of-life wishes, and not understanding the meaning of the term lifesaving measures). Two were related to nurse issues. Seven obstacles decreased in magnitude, including poor design of units, overly restrictive visiting hours, and physicians avoiding conversations with families. Four helpful behavior magnitude scores increased significantly over time, including physician agreement on patient care and family access to the patient. Three helpful behavior items decreased in magnitude, including intensive care unit design.

Conclusions The same end-of-life care obstacles that were reported in 1999 are still present. Obstacles related to family behaviors increased significantly, whereas obstacles related to intensive care unit environment or physician behaviors decreased significantly. These results indicate a need for better end-of-life education for families and health care providers.

Original Publication Citation

Beckstrand, R. L., Jenkins, J. B., Luthy, K. E., & Macintosh, J. L. B. (2020). Family Behaviors as Unchanging Obstacles in End-of-Life Care: 16-Year Comparative Data. American Journal of Critical Care, 29(4), e81–e91.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


American Journal of Critical Care





University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor