Defining the Practice of "No Escalation of Care" in the ICU
Withdrawal or withholding of life-sustaining therapies precedes most deaths in the modern ICU. As goals of care for critically ill patients change from curative to palliative, this transition often occurs abruptly, but a slower more staggered approach may also be used. One such approach is "no escalation of care", often the first step in this transition at the end-of-life. We aimed to determine the prevalence of no escalation of care designation for ICU decedents and identify which interventions are involved. We performed a retrospective medical record review of all patients who died over a two year period. Records with documentation of no escalation of care in physician orders or progress notes, or other instructions suggesting sequential or selective limitation of interventions were included. Sixteen bed medical ICU at a single large academic hospital. None. Of a total of 310 ICU decedents, 95 (30%) had a no escalation of care designation before death. Hemodialysis, vasopressors, and blood transfusions were the interventions more likely to be withheld. For ongoing therapies, hemodialysis, blood transfusions, and antibiotics were more likely to be withdrawn. Mechanical ventilation, hydration, and nutrition were less likely to be withheld or withdrawn. A minority had a palliative care consult (15%) or ethics consult (4%) while in the ICU. Time from no escalation of care designation to death averaged 0.8 days (range, 0-5 d). No escalation of care designation occurs in a significant proportion of ICU decedents shortly before death. Some interventions are more likely to be limited than others using a no escalation of care approach.