Identifying critically ill patients who have unmet needs for palliative care is the first step in integrating the palliative approach for patients and their families into intensive care units.


To explore how palliative care is addressed in an intensive care unit and to develop and test a screening tool for unmet needs that may be met through the palliative approach.


A mixed-methods study was conducted in the intensive care unit of a tertiary care hospital to explore the palliative approach. Focus groups and a survey were used to identify items for the screening tool. After pilot testing of the tool, interviews were conducted to refine the content.


The first focus group (14 participants) revealed participants’ frustration with unclear communication and a desire for better collaboration among health care team members regarding patients with serious life-limiting illnesses and their families. The survey (response rate: 20%; 30 of 150) showed clinicians’ preference for items that identify specific needs rather than diagnoses. The second focus group (8 participants) yielded strategies to operationalize the tool for all patients in the intensive care unit. After 2 separate pilot testing cycles, bedside nurses noted that use of the screening tool prompted earlier discussions and broader assessments of what is meaningful to patients and their families.


Development of a screening tool for unmet palliative care needs among intensive care unit patients is feasible and acceptable and may help to systematically integrate the palliative approach into routine care for critically ill patients.

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