Breaking Bad (News)

Joining the Alfred ICU / INTENSIVE team next week is intensivist David Anderson (@expensivecare). He has a special interest in end-of-life care and communication at this difficult time. He gave an excellent talk on this topic at SMACC Chicago in 2016.

Here is the audio and the slides:


David’s summary from the SMACC website is here:


Delivering bad news and having an end of life conversation are core skills for any practitioner who deals with critically ill patients. Current data show that while 22% of deaths in the USA now occur in ICU, 54% of families surveyed have a poor understanding of patient’s diagnosis, treatment plan and prognosis. Dr. Kate Granger found this out first hand while admitted to hospital in the UK and started the #hellomynameis campaign.


  • While families feel more validated if given longer to speak, doctors speak for 71% of the time in family meetings.
  • Longer meetings are also associated with greater patient and family member satisfaction.
  • Patients perceive that doctors spend longer with them if the doctor is sitting down.
  • Use of a simple mnemonic increases satisfaction and reduced the incidence of PTSD in family members.


  1. Prepare for the meeting. Decide who will attend, what you will talk about and what your goals are.
  2. Introduce everyone and explain the agenda.
  3. Gather everyone’s understanding
  4. Listen and don’t interrupt
  5. Empathise (physicians express no empathy in 1/3 of family meetings)
  6. Make the patient’s voice heard
  7. Make your recommendation to go forward
  8. Reflect on the meeting after it concludes


Hope is an issue that comes up often. Many other specialties emphasise the importance of hope, while intensivists are often seen as being nihilistic. But we can still foster a degree of hope in patients and families without being unrealistic.

Techniques for managing conflict are discussed such as identifying discord in the family and avoiding mixed messages from staff.

The importance of spirituality is discussed.

For more SMACC talks, go to the SMACC website or the podcast on iTunes.

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