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ICU Paradox: Death Gets Better Grades

Families of patients who die in a hospital's Intensive Care Unit tend to be more satisfied with the level of care than the families of ICU survivors. Karen Hopkin reports.

Having a loved one in the hospital, especially the Intensive Care Unit, or ICU, can be a harrowing experience. And it’s even more traumatic for the families of those who pass away. Or so you’d think.

But according to a study published in the November issue of the journal Chest, families whose loved ones die in the ICU tend to be more satisfied with the care they received than those whose loved ones survive.

Although the results seem paradoxical, when you look more closely at how people define “quality of care,” they do make sense. All patients who wind up in the ICU, whether or not they walk out, receive a similar standard of care from a strictly medical point of view. But doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff may devote extra time and attention to the needs of families whose loved ones are near the end.

That compassion is what families who lose a loved one are responding to when they report a more satisfactory ICU experience. Just having someone who’ll explain what’s going on, answer their questions and offer emotional support makes all the difference. An observation that, in the end, is maybe not so surprising.

—Karen Hopkin

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