BACKGROUND: Critical care and palliative care professionals treat and support seriously ill patients on a daily basis, and the possibility of burnout may be high. The consequences of burnout can include moral injury and distress, and compassion fatigue, which are detrimental to both care and staff.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: To explore the incidence of moral distress in areas at high risk of burnout in a large cancer centre and to explore possible measures for addressing moral distress.
DESIGN: A cross-sectional survey.
METHODS: The Maslach Burnout Inventory was administered to critical care, critical care outreach, and palliative care teams in a specialist tertiary cancer centre. Open questions on supportive measures were also included. Burnout data were categorised into three domains of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and personal accomplishment, and free-text analysis was conducted on the open-question data.
RESULTS: A total of 63 professionals responded across the teams (45% response rate). A low level of burnout was observed in the emotional exhaustion domain; depersonalization was higher in the critical care professionals; and overall, personal accomplishment was higher than normative scores. Free-text analysis highlighted three categories of responses: Debriefing, Managing emotional well-being, and Valuing individuals. There was a need to proactively recognize issues; undertake more debriefs; and open forums regarding cases, particularly with difficult deaths. Engaging all professionals, support to deal with families, and mandatory moral distress and resilience training were suggested, alongside a focus on team building through external activities such as group relaxation sessions and walks.
CONCLUSIONS: This study demonstrated a relatively low incidence of emotional exhaustion and depersonalization, and a slightly higher sense of personal accomplishment than normative scores despite staff working in an environment where high levels of burnout were expected.
RELEVANCE TO CLINICAL PRACTICE: Staff highlighted possible solutions to reduce burnout, which included debriefing, managing emotional well-being, and valuing individuals.
Rapid response teams, such as critical care outreach teams, have prominent roles in managing end-of-life transitions in critical illness, often questioning appropriateness of treatment escalation. Clinical uncertainty presents clinicians with dilemmas in how and when to escalate or de-escalate treatment.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES: To explore how critical care outreach team decision-making processes affect the management of transition points for critically ill, ward-based patients with a life-limiting illness.
METHODS: An ethnographic study across two hospitals observed transition points and decisions to de-escalate treatment, through the lens of critical care outreach. In-depth interviews were carried out to elucidate rationales for practices witnessed in observations. Detailed field notes were taken and placed in a descriptive account. Ethnographic data were analysed, categorised and organised into themes using thematic analysis.
FINDINGS: Data were collected over 74 weeks, encompassing 32 observation periods with 20 staff, totalling more than 150 hr. Ten formal staff interviews and 20 informal staff interviews were undertaken. Three main themes emerged: early decision-making and the role of critical care outreach; communicating end-of-life transitions; end-of-life care and the input of critical care outreach. Findings suggest there is a negotiation to achieve smooth transitions for individual patients, between critical care outreach, and parent or ward medical teams. This process of negotiation is subject to many factors that either hinder or facilitate timely transitions.
CONCLUSIONS: Critical care outreach teams have an important role in shared decision-making. Associated emotional costs relate to conflict with parent medical teams, and working as lone practitioners. The cultural contexts in which teams work have a significant effect on their interactions and agency.
RELEVANCE TO PRACTICE: There needs to be a cultural shift towards early and open discussion of treatment goals and limitations of medical treatment, particularly when facing serious illness. With training and competencies, outreach nurses are well placed to facilitate these discussions.