BACKGROUND: Critical care nurses must collaborate with physicians, patients, and patients' families when making decisions about aggressiveness of care. However, few studies address nurses' ability to predict outcomes. OBJECTIVES: To compare predictions of survival outcomes made by nurses, by physicians, and by using the Mortality Prediction Model. METHODS: Predictions of survival and function and attitudes toward aggressiveness of care based on the predictions were recorded on questionnaires in the emergency department by emergency and intensive care unit physicians and by intensive care unit nurses at the time of admission to the unit between February and September 1995 for 235 consecutive adult nontrauma patients. Scores on the Mortality Prediction Model were calculated on admission. Data on 85 of the 235 patients were analyzed by using descriptive, chi 2, and correlational statistics. Nurses' predictions of function were compared with patients' actual outcomes 6 months after admission. RESULTS: Nurses' predictions of survival were comparable to those of emergency physicians and superior to those obtained by using the objective tool. Years of nursing experience had no relationship to attitudes toward aggressiveness of care. Nurses accurately predicted functional outcomes in 52% of the followed-up cases. Intensive care physicians were more accurate than nurses and emergency physicians in predicting survival. All predictions made by clinicians were superior to those obtained by using the model. CONCLUSIONS: Nurses can predict survival outcomes as accurately as physicians do. Greater sensitivity and specificity are necessary before clinical judgment or predictive tools can be considered as screens for determining aggressiveness of care.

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