End of life communication in the ICU at the Canberra Hospital

End of life communication in the ICU at the Canberra Hospital

International evidence demonstrates that effective communication about goals of care, prognoses and treatment options provides patients with a better quality of life, and minimises family distress. Improving clinician communication skills is therefore essential to achieving high-quality end-of-life care.

Few patients come into the Canberra Hospital ICU having had an end-of-life conversation, or with an Advance Care Plan in place. Clinicians are therefore considered to be responsible for raising end-of-life with patients and families. However, healthcare professionals often feel inadequately trained to hold frank conversations about death and dying.

The End of Life Project in the ICU at the Canberra Hospital

In 2018, the ANU Institute for Communication in Health Care (ICH) received grant funding from the Research School of Humanities and the Arts to conduct a pilot study on end-of-life communication in the intensive care unit (ICU) at the Canberra Hospital.

The focus of this pilot project was to describe and analyse the communication practices of doctors in end-of-life (EoL) interactions in the Canberra Hospital Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The ICU at the Canberra Hospital offers critical care across 31 beds and treats around 2,220 patients from the ACT and South Eastern NSW annually.

An interdisciplinary team of linguists from the ICH and medical academics from the ANU Medical School set out to contribute to achieving a safe and high-quality EoL care experience by providing evidence from authentic recorded end-of-life interactions that would then provide an evidence base to inform the development of communication protocols and context-sensitive recommendations.

Project Team

  • Diana Slade, Professor of Applied Linguistics and Director Institute for Communication in Health Care
  • Imogen Mitchell, Clinical Director, ACT Territory Wide COVID19 Taskforce, Canberra Health Services; Director, ANU Medical School
  • Brett Scholz, Senior Research Fellow, ANU Medical School
  • Suzanne Eggins, Research Fellow, Australian National University
  • Michael Chapman, Director, Palliative Care, Canberra Health Services
  • Liza Goncharov, Manager, Institute for Communication in Health Care
  • Shannon Clark, Research Fellow, Australian National University
  • Kristina Bergmark, Research Officer, Institute for Communication in Health Care
  • Nathan Emmerich, Research Fellow, Australian National University
  • Maria Dahm, Research Fellow, Institute for Communication in Health Care

Updated:  5 August 2020/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications