Skip to content

The quality of end-of-life care among intensive care unit versus ward decedents

American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine April 1, 2020

Read the full article

Research Areas


RATIONALE: Admissions to ICUs are common during terminal hospitalizations, but little is known about how ICU care affects the end-of-life experience for patients dying in hospitals and their families.

OBJECTIVES: We measured the association between ICU care during terminal hospitalization and family ratings of end-of-life care for patients who died in 106 Veterans Affairs hospitals from 2010 to 2016.

METHODS: Patients were divided into four categories: no-ICU care, ICU-only care, mixed care (died outside ICU), and mixed care (died in ICU). Multivariable linear probability models were adjusted for patient and hospital characteristics. Patients receiving mixed care were also analyzed based on percentage of time in ICU.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Of 57,550 decedents, 28,062 (48.8%) had a survey completed by a family member or close contact. In adjusted models, ICU-only care was associated with more frequent optimal ratings than no-ICU care, including overall excellent care (56.6% vs. 48.1%; P < 0.001), care consistent with preferences (78.7% vs. 72.4%; P < 0.001), and having pain controlled (51.3% vs. 46.7%; P < 0.001). Among patients with mixed care, increasing ICU time was associated with higher ratings on these same measures (all P < 0.001 for comparisons of those spending >75% time in ICU vs. ≤25% time).

CONCLUSIONS: Among hospital decedents, ICU care was associated with higher family ratings of quality of end-of-life care than ward care. Reducing ICU use among hospital decedents may not improve end-of-life quality, and efforts to understand how ICU care improves end-of-life quality could help provide better care outside ICUs.


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute ( NHLBI)