Characteristics of Prognostic Statements During Family Conferences of Critically Ill Children

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Pediatric critical care medicine : a journal of the Society of Critical Care Medicine and the World Federation of Pediatric Intensive and Critical Care Societies








OBJECTIVES: Discussion of prognosis is an essential component of decision-making family conferences in critical care. We do not know how clinicians convey prognosis to families of critically ill children. We, therefore, aimed to evaluate the frequency of prognostic statements and the message and meaning conveyed through each statement during PICU family conferences. DESIGN: Retrospective, mixed-methods study. SETTING: PICU of a single quaternary medical center. PATIENTS: Critically ill children and their families participating in PICU family conferences of critical medical decision-making. INTERVENTIONS: None. MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: We analyzed 72 transcripts from audio-recorded PICU family conferences to identify prognostic statements. Descriptive, thematic content analysis was used to elucidate the message and meaning of each prognostic statement. Prognosis was not discussed in 26% (19/72) of family conferences. Of the other (53/72) conferences where prognostic statements were made, 60% (67/112) of statements conveyed a message (i.e., prognostic medical information) and a meaning (i.e., anticipated impact on patient/family). "Messages" of prognostic statements fell within eight themes: uncertain recovery, delayed recovery, progressive decline, escalation of support, attributable complications, no progress, irreversible, and probability of death. "Meanings" of prognostic statements fell within six themes: restoration of health, activities of daily living, additional equipment, prolonged care needs, brain dysfunction, and death. Broadly, clinicians discussed prognostic information in three categories: loss of Time (i.e., prolonged care needs), Function (i.e., additional medical equipment), or Cure (i.e., death). CONCLUSIONS: Nearly in half of discussions (32/72, 44%) where families were asked to make critical medical decisions, clinicians did not provide a prognostic statement including a message and meaning. When discussed, prognostic information was conveyed in three categories: loss of time, function, or cure. Providing families context in this framework, particularly in times of uncertainty, may improve the family's ability to make informed, value-driven medical decisions for their child.