Dimensions and Role-Specific Mediators of Surrogate Trust in the ICU

Paul J. Hutchison, Katie McLaughlin, Tom Corbridge, Kelly N. Michelson, Linda Emanuel, Peter H S Sporn, Megan Crowley-Matoka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Objective: In the ICU, discussions between clinicians and surrogate decision makers are often accompanied by conflict about a patient's prognosis or care plan. Trust plays a role in limiting conflict, but little is known about the determinants of trust in the ICU. We sought to identify the dimensions of trust and clinician behaviors conducive to trust formation in the ICU. Design: Prospective qualitative study. Setting: Medical ICU of a major urban university hospital. Subjects: Surrogate decision makers of intubated, mechanically ventilated patients in the medical ICU. Measurements and Main Results: Semistructured interviews focused on surrogates' general experiences in the ICU and on their trust in the clinicians caring for the patient. Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and coded by two reviewers. Constant comparison was used to identify themes pertaining to trust. Thirty surrogate interviews revealed five dimensions of trust in ICU clinicians: technical competence, communication, honesty, benevolence, and interpersonal skills. Most surrogates emphasized the role of nurses in trust formation, frequently citing their technical competence. Trust in physicians was most commonly related to honesty and the quality of their communication with surrogates. Conclusions: Interventions to improve trust in the ICU should be role-specific, since surrogate expectations are different for physicians and nurses with regard to behaviors relevant to trust. Further research is needed to confirm our findings and explore the impact of trust modification on clinician-family conflict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2208-2214
Number of pages7
JournalCritical care medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • communication
  • decision making
  • intensive care units
  • nurses
  • trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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