Background: Despite technological innovations and continuous improvement in evidence-based treatments, mortality in the intensive care unit (ICU) remains high. Consequently, a large group of family members may be in need of, and could benefit from, bereavement follow-up support.
Aims and Objectives: To explore the elements, organization, and evaluation of ICU bereavement services in European countries. Specific objectives were to investigate: (a) the model of bereavement follow-up services (elements of support), (b) the workforce model (organization of staff), and (c) the evaluation model (evaluation strategies).
Design: This was a cross-sectional survey of conference delegates.
Methods: A paper-and-pen questionnaire, including a cover letter assuring the respondents of anonymity and confidentiality, was distributed to 250 delegates during the opening ceremony of the 2017 European federation of Critical Care Nurses associations Congress in Belfast. The questionnaire was developed from a previously validated tool describing bereavement care practices in ICUs, including questions about the content and organization of bereavement follow-up services. Frequencies were calculated using yes/no questions, and content analysis was applied in additional free-text comments.
Results: We received 85 responses from publicly employed nurses, mainly in mixed adult ICUs. Respondents were 48 (56.5%) bedside nurses, and the remaining respondents represented clinical nurse specialists, researchers, managers, or academic nurses. Bereavement follow up had existed for about 1 to 15 years. Important follow-up elements were: viewing the deceased in the unit, 77 (90.6%); providing follow-up information, 67 (79.8%); sending a letter of sympathy, 17 (20%); and calling the family to arrange a meeting, 27 (31%).
Conclusions: Bereavement follow up is common but variable in European ICUs. We recommend the development, implementation, and evaluation of evidence-based, but culture-specific, bereavement follow-up guidelines for European ICUs.
Relevance to clinical practice: More critical care nurses are realizing the need for bereavement follow-up guidelines. This paper provides an overview of common elements that might be considered.
BACKGROUND: Mortality in Danish intensive care units (ICUs) continues at 27%, resulting in a large number of bereaved family members being cared for in the ICU.
OBJECTIVES: To investigate the provision of bereavement care and follow-up services for bereaved families in Danish ICUs.
METHODOLOGY: Self-administered computerized cross-sectional nation-wide survey of Danish ICUs.
RESULTS: Nurses at 46 of 48 (96%) ICUs in Denmark responded. Bereavement care at the time of patient death included viewing the patient in ICU (100%), and in the hospital mortuary (59%). Information about hospital-based follow-up for the family was provided in 72% of units, whereas only one unit provided information on community-based bereavement follow-up. Bereavement follow-up services after hospitalization were offered to families in 59% of ICUs and included an ICU visit, meeting with the staff present at the time of death, a letter of condolence, a phone call to the family, referral to a priest or clergyman, or referral to other counseling. Although many interventions were common, there were variations within the elements offered. Nurses and physicians were the most consistent health care staff involved in bereavement services.
CONCLUSION: Most ICUs in Denmark offered bereavement follow-up services, but these varied in their approach, were not evidence-based, and lacked formal evaluation. More systematic quality improvement of bereavement practices is required.