Nurses' involvement in 'do not resuscitate' decisions on acute elder care wards

Cindy De Gendt, Johan Bilsen, Robert Vander Stichele, Nele Van Den Noortgate, Margareta Lambert, Luc Deliens
Journal of Advanced Nursing 2007, 57 (4): 404-9

AIM: This paper reports the involvement of nurses in 'do not resuscitate' decision-making on acute elder care wards and their adherence to such decisions in the case of an actual cardiopulmonary arrest.

BACKGROUND: Previous literature showed that nurses are involved in half or less than half of 'do not resuscitate' decisions in hospitals, but their involvement in this decision-making on acute elder care wards in particular has not been investigated.

METHOD: A questionnaire was sent in 2002 to the head nurses of all acute elder care wards in Flanders, Belgium (n = 94). They were asked whether nurses had been involved in the last 'do not resuscitate' decision-making process on their ward and whether nurses 'never', 'rarely', 'sometimes', 'often' or 'always' started resuscitation in case of cardiopulmonary arrest of patients with 'do not resuscitate' status and of those without.

RESULTS: The response rate was 86.2% (n = 81). In 74.7% of the last 'do not resuscitate' decisions on acute elder care wards in Flanders, a nurse was involved in the decision-making process. For patients with 'do not resuscitate' status, 54.3% of respondents reported that cardiopulmonary resuscitation was 'never' started on their ward, 'rarely' on 39.5% and 'sometimes' on 6.2%. For patients without 'do not resuscitate' status, nurses started cardiopulmonary resuscitation 'rarely' or 'sometimes' on 22.2% of all wards, and 'often' or 'always' on 77.8%.

CONCLUSION: To make appropriate 'do not resuscitate' decisions and to avoid rash decision-making in cases of actual cardiopulmonary arrest, nurses should be involved early in 'do not resuscitate' decision-making. If institutional 'do not resuscitate' guidelines were to stress more clearly the important role of nurses in all kinds of end-of-life decisions, this might improve the 'do not resuscitate' decision-making process.

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