ICU panel to discuss importance of compassion in end-of-life scenarios

Death and end-of-life care in the ICU can be traumatic for patients, families, and clinicians. Families may experience stress, posttraumatic stress disorder, and complicated grief, while clinicians often experience burnout due to caring for patients who are dying.

During the discussion session, The Interprofessional Case for Compassion at the End of Life in the ICU, an interprofessional group of experts will present challenging cases and discuss evidence-based strategies to improve the end-of-life experience for patients, families, and clinicians. The session will be held on Tuesday, from 7:15 am to 8:15 am, in Room 323A of the convention center.

Elaine Chen, MD, FCCP
Elaine Chen, MD, FCCP

“As we are deeply involved in the healing of people in the ICU and trying to get them better, we sometimes forget the impact that our compassion can have on family members as they are losing a loved one,” said Session Chair, Elaine Chen, MD, FCCP.

“We see this every day, but they only lose their loved one once,” she said. “We should try to remember that it is an incredibly difficult time for them and that, as critical care clinicians, we can have both an immediate and long-term impact on the families of patients who die in the ICU.”

Dr. Chen, Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Palliative Medicine at Rush Medical College and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, will be joined by a panel of colleagues from Rush University Medical Center, including Abhaya Trivedi, MD.

Dr. Trivedi will discuss the importance of recognizing and addressing disparities in how clinicians approach end-of-life care for patients of different races, cultures, and ages—among other factors. She also brings a unique perspective to the discussion, as both a pulmonary and critical care physician and someone who has personally experienced the death of a loved one in the ICU.

“She had a family member who died in an ICU, and she really struggled with that experience,” Dr. Chen said of Dr. Trivedi. “While it impacted her in a negative way, moving forward, it also positively changed the way she approaches the families of patients who are dying in the ICU.”

Brady Scott, PhD, RRT, FCCP, also of Rush University Medical Center, will provide the respiratory therapist perspective, describing the experiences and challenges unique to that workforce.

“Dr. Scott has spent a lot of time at the bedside in the ICU and understands the difficulty of caring for patients who are dying in the ICU,” Dr. Chen said. “He will talk about the impact that ‘compassion fatigue’ can have on respiratory therapists and any bedside staff as they are growing as clinicians involved in the care of patients who are dying in the ICU.”

Paige Stephan, Staff Chaplain at Rush University Medical Center, will discuss the importance of recognizing and being sensitive to the spiritual or religious needs of patients and their families when providing end-of-life care in the ICU.

“Her perspective, as a spiritual leader rather than a bedside clinician, can help clinicians understand the spiritual challenges that may be experienced by families and identify things that we can do as clinicians to help the families grieve, to help ourselves grieve, and to build resilience in the ICU care team,” Dr. Chen said.

Overall, the goal of the session is to provide critical care clinicians with techniques and strategies for communicating with families and exercising compassion during the perimortem period in the ICU.

“I really hope that our colleagues in the audience will recognize that it is really difficult and important to take care of ourselves when we take care of patients who are sick and dying,” Dr. Chen said, “and also recognize that our bedside presence can have a huge impact on families after the death of their loved one and that we should really make an effort to be present, to be compassionate, and to use our words thoughtfully and carefully.”