An Exploration of ICU Nurses' Medical Futility Experiences While Taking Care of Critical Patients

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Ming Yi Hsu, PhD, MSc, RN, LPN
School of Nursing, Chung Shan Medical University, Taichung, Taiwan
Lien-Ying Chiang, MSN, BSN, RN, LPN
Department of Nursing, Taichung Veterans General Hospital, Taichung City, Taiwan

An exploration of ICU nurses' medical futility experiences while taking care of critical patients


Background:Advanced medical technology can often extend the lives of critical patients, but it has its limitations. Under certain circumstances, medical interventions only prolong patients’ life without ensuring an acceptable quality of life. It is imperative to develop a policy of medical futility for such patients. However, there is no consensus among medical professionals in Taiwan as to what constitutes medical futility.  

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore ICU nurses' medical futility experiences while taking care of critical patients.

Methods: A phenomenology approach, purposeful sampling, and snowball sampling were used to recruit nurses at one medical center and one regional hospital. In-depth, semi-structured interview were conducted, and each interview was tape recorded. The eight nurses who participated in this study worked at Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and had more than one year working experience that included taking care of critical patients. The trustworthiness of the study was examined using Lincoln and Guba (1985) principles. Data were analyzed using the Colaizzi (1978) method. Five major themes emerged, including ICU nurse’s definition of futility, the process by which critical patients advanced to medically futile patients, considerations of medical futility, nursing care for medically futile patients, and facing the medically futile patient.

Contributions: The study findings will further understanding of medical futility in critical care and provide information valuable to improved clinical care, education, and medical policy development.