Surgeons' attitudes and practices in the utilization of palliative and supportive care services for patients with a sudden advanced illness

Academic Article


  • Background: There is growing interest in the interface between palliative care and other medical specialties, yet little is known about decision-making processes characterizing such collaborations. At the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), the trauma-burn surgery and neurosurgery services frequently request consults from the palliative care team for patients with a sudden advanced illness from catastrophic injuries or physiologic insult. Objective: We explored surgeons' attitudes and decision-making practices regarding utilization of palliative and supportive care for patients with a sudden advanced illness from traumatic injury or physiologic insult at UAB Hospital, an American College of Surgeons certified level 1 trauma center. Design and Analysis: We conducted face-to-face, open-ended interviews with nine attending trauma-burn surgeons and neurosurgeons at UAB, utilizing a grounded theory approach to discover salient themes in surgeons' accounts of the palliative care consultative process. Surgeons' descriptions of exemplary cases provided the context for elucidating the larger dynamic involved in assessing patients' situations and identifying the need for palliative and supportive care services. Results: We organized the data using decision-making diagrams, identifying multiple pathways within the larger consultative framework. Although case-based responses exhibited variations in surgeons diagnostic or prognostic criteria, patient's location in the illness/injury trajectory, and surgeon's goals/desired outcomes; a general decision-making pathway emerged. Conclusions: Through collaboration with the palliative care service at UAB, trauma-burn surgeons and neurosurgeons are better equipped to manage the multidimensional nature of suffering and provide a holistic approach to care for patients and families dealing with a sudden advanced illness. © Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
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    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Tilden LB; Williams BR; Tucker RO; MacLennan PA; Ritchie CS
  • Start Page

  • 1037
  • End Page

  • 1042
  • Volume

  • 12
  • Issue

  • 11