Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) combined with COVID-19 presents challenges (eg, isolation, anticipatory grief) for patients and families.


To (1) describe characteristics and outcomes of patients with COVID-19 receiving ECMO, (2) develop a practice improvement strategy to implement early, semistructured palliative care communication in ECMO acknowledgment meetings with patients’ families, and (3) examine family members’ experiences as recorded in clinicians’ notes during these meetings.


Descriptive observation of guided, in-depth meetings with families of patients with COVID-19 receiving ECMO, as gathered from the electronic medical record of a large urban academic medical center. Most meetings were held within 3 days of initiation of ECMO.


Forty-three patients received ECMO between March and October 2020. The mean patient age was 44 years; 63% of patients were Hispanic/Latino, 19% were Black, and 7% were White. Documentation of the ECMO acknowledgment meeting was completed for 60% of patients. Fifty-six percent of patients survived to hospital discharge. Family discussions revealed 7 common themes: hope, reliance on faith, multiple family members with COVID-19, helping children adjust to a new normal, visitation restrictions, gratitude for clinicians and care, and end-of-life discussions.


Early and ongoing provision of palliative care is feasible and useful for highlighting a range of experiences related to COVID-19. Palliative care is also useful for educating patients and families on the benefits and limitations of ECMO therapy.

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