Chapter 2: Strategies to assess and engage with families

Identifying expectations

Additional Videos
Normalizing the ICU for family members for families (3:22)Video transcript
Assessing what the family knows (3:22)Video transcript

“No one prepared me for what this death was going to be like. Maybe they don’t always know but having some ideas would really help”. - Family member

Most families have no way of knowing what to anticipate in an ICU. There are many variables that can influence a family’s understanding, such as:

  • Their expectations of what the ICU team can and cannot do.
  • Their understanding of the patient’s medical condition.
  • What they have been told by other health care professionals prior to or during the hospital admission.
  • Their readiness or willingness to hear difficult news.

Family members with unrealistic expectations of patient recovery may be more at risk for future difficulties, including traumatic grief.

Conversation Prompts

“Tell me what you know about [name]/ your dad's medical situation".

Knowing what to expect in ICU as a family member

Consider offering a pamphlet (such as When death is near) with information on what they might expect as the end of life approaches. This allows the family to read through information in their own time and ask questions when they are ready.