Causes of Moral Distress in the ICU: A Qualitative Study

Henrich, N.J. et al. Journal of Critical Care. Published online: 12 May 2016

Purpose: To examine the causes of moral distress in diverse members of the ICU team in both community and tertiary ICUs.

Materials and Methods: We used focus groups and coding of transcripts into themes and sub-themes in 2 tertiary care intensive care units and 1 community intensive care unit.

Results: Based on input from 19 staff nurses (3 focus groups), 4 clinical nurse leaders (1 focus group), 13 physicians (3 focus groups), and 20 other health professionals (3 focus groups), the most commonly reported causes of moral distress were concerns about the care provided by other health care workers, the amount of care provided (especially too much care at end of life), poor communication, inconsistent care plans, and issues around end of life decision-making.

Conclusions: Causes of moral distress vary among ICU professional groups but all are amenable to improvement.

Read the abstract here


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