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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Boston Globe Health and Science staff:
Karen Weintraub, Deputy Health and Science Editor, and Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor.
Short White Coat blogger Ishani Ganguli
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Listening is critical for patients' families, too
Listening more and talking less really does make a difference, not only for intensive care patients but also for their loved ones.
A UMass Memorial Medical Center physician lauds as "groundbreaking" a French study appearing in tomorrow’s New England Journal of Medicine that looks at how ICU doctors communicate with families.
Previous studies have shown that even desperately ill people do better when the goals of treatment, whether that means aggressive care or comfort measures only, are well explained and understood. But no one had looked at how communication affects relatives of patients dying in the ICU.
"The French study is groundbreaking because it shows if we spend a little bit more time, mostly listening to patients and their families, the well-being of survivors of patients who die is going to be better," Dr. Craig M. Lilly of UMass Memorial said in an interview. He comments in a New England Journal editorial, "The Healing Power of Listening in the ICU."
Dr. Alexandre Lautrette and a team of researchers in France tested levels of stress and depression in two groups of survivors. One group had standard end-of-life conferences, but the intervention group had longer sessions in which they did more of the talking. Follow-up telephone interviews showed lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression in the group that had longer conferences and more time to talk.
"All providers of critical care should receive training that will allow them to offer the kind of support that they would want if they had a family member who was facing death in an ICU," Lilly wrote in his editorial.