Conference Coverage

Storytelling tool can assist elderly in the ICU



– A “Best Case/Worst Case” (BCWC) framework tool has been adapted for use with geriatric trauma patients in the ICU, where it can help track a patient’s progress and enable better communication with patients and loved ones. The tool relies on a combination of graphics and text that surgeons update daily during rounds, and creates a longitudinal view of a patient’s trajectory during their stay in the ICU.

ICU monitor Andrei Malov/Thinkstock

The aim is to have surgeons incorporate story telling into care, by updating the best-case scenario in light of new clinical developments – for example, after a complication has arisen.

“Each day during rounds, the ICU team records important events on the graphic aid that change the patient’s course. The team draws a star to represent the best case, and a line to represent prognostic uncertainty. The attending trauma surgeon then uses the geriatric trauma outcome score, their knowledge of the health state of the patient, and their own clinical experience to tell a story about treatments, recovery, and outcomes if everything goes as well as we might hope. This story is written down in the best-case scenario box,” Christopher Zimmerman, MD, a general surgery resident at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, said during a presentation about the BCWC tool at the annual clinical congress of the American College of Surgeons

“We often like to talk to patients and their families [about best- and worst-case scenarios] anyway, but [the research team] have tried to formalize it,” said Tam Pham, MD, professor of surgery at the University of Washington, in an interview. Dr. Pham comoderated the session where the research was presented.

“When we’re able to communicate where the uncertainty is and where the boundaries are around the course of care and possible outcomes, we can build an alliance with patients and families that will be helpful when there is a big decision to make, say about a laparotomy for a perforated viscus,” said Dr. Zimmerman.

Dr. Zimmerman gave an example of a patient who came into the ICU after suffering multiple fractures from falling down a set of stairs. The team created an initial BCWC with a hoped-for best-case scenario. Later, the patient developed hypoxemic respiratory failure and had to be intubated overnight. “This event is recorded on the graphic, and her star representing the best case has changed position, the line representing uncertainty has shortened, and the contents of her best-case scenario has changed. Each day in rounds, this process is repeated,” said Dr. Zimmerman.

Palliative care physicians, education experts, and surgeons at the University of Wisconsin–Madison developed the tool in an effort to reduce unwanted care at the end of life, in the context of high-risk surgeries. The researchers adapted the tool to the trauma setting by gathering six focus groups of trauma practitioners at the University of Wisconsin; University of Texas, Dallas; and Oregon Health & Science University, Portland. They modified the tool after incorporating comments, and then iteratively modified it through tasks carried out in the ICU as part of a qualitative improvement initiative at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. They generated a change to the tool, implemented it in the ICU during subsequent rounds, then collected observations and field notes, then revised and repeated the process, streamlining it to fit into the ICU environment, according to Dr. Zimmerman.

The back side of the tool is available for family members to write important details about their loved ones, leading insight into the patient’s personality and desires, such as favorite music or affection for a family pet.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Zimmerman and Dr. Pham have no relevant financial disclosures.

SOURCE: Zimmerman C et al. Clinical Congress 2019, Abstract.

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