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Should Emergency Department Patients with End-of-Life Directives be Admitted to the ICU? J Emerg Med 2018 09;55(3):435-440



Pubmed ID




Scopus ID

2-s2.0-85050295576   5 Citations


BACKGROUND: Whether emergency physicians should utilize critical care resources for patients with advance care planning directives is a complex question. Because the cost of intensive care unit (ICU)-level care, in terms of human suffering and financial burden, can be considerable, ICU-level care ought to be provided only to those patients who would consent and who would benefit from it.

OBJECTIVES: In this article, we discuss the interplay between clinical indications, patient preferences, and advance care directives, and make recommendations about what the emergency physician must consider when deciding whether a patient with an advance care planning document should be admitted to the ICU.

DISCUSSION: Although some patients may wish to avoid certain aggressive or invasive measures available in an ICU, there may be a tendency, reinforced by recent Society of Critical Care Medicine guidelines, to presume that such patients will not benefit as much as other patients from the specialized care of the ICU. The ICU still may be the most appropriate setting for hospitalization to access care outside of the limitations set forward in those end-of-life care directives. On the other hand, ICU beds are a scarce and expensive resource that may offer aggressive treatments that can inflict suffering onto patients unlikely to benefit from them. Goals-of-care discussions are critical to align patient end-of-life care preferences with hospital resources, and therefore, the appropriateness of ICU disposition.

CONCLUSIONS: End-of-life care directives should not automatically exclude patients from the ICU. Rather, ICU admission should be based upon the alignment of uniquely beneficial treatment offered by the ICU and patients' values and stated goals of care.

Author List

Jesus JE, Marshall KD, Kraus CK, Derse AR, Baker EF, McGreevy J, American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) Ethics Committee


Arthur R. Derse MD, JD Director, Professor in the Institute for Health and Equity department at Medical College of Wisconsin

MESH terms used to index this publication - Major topics in bold

Advance Directives
Aged, 80 and over
Decision Making
Emergency Service, Hospital
Heart Failure
Intensive Care Units
Patient Admission
Patient Preference
Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive
Terminal Care