, Volume 35, Issue 12, pp 2068-2077

Conflicts in the ICU: perspectives of administrators and clinicians

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study is to understand conflicts in the ICU setting as experienced by clinicians and administrators and explore methods currently used to resolve such conflicts when there may be discordance between clinicians and families, caregivers or administration.

Methods

Qualitative case study methodology using semi-structured interviews was used. The sample included community and academic health science centres in 16 hospitals from across the province of Ontario, Canada. A total of 42 participants including hospital administrators and ICU clinicians were interviewed. Participants were sampled purposively to ensure representation.

Results

The most common source of conflict in the ICU is a result of disagreement about the goals of treatment. Such conflicts arise between the ICU and referring teams (inter-team), among members of the ICU team (intra-team), and between the ICU team and patients’ family/substitute decision-maker (SDM). Inter- and intra-team conflicts often contribute to conflicts between the ICU team and families. Various themes were identified as contributing factors that may influence conflict resolution practices as well as the various consequences and challenges of conflict situations. Limitations of current conflict resolution policies were revealed as well as suggested strategies to improve practice.

Conclusions

There is considerable variability in dealing with conflicts in the ICU. Greater attention is needed at a systems level to support a culture aimed at prevention and resolution of conflicts to avoid increased sources of anxiety, stress and burnout.