Time-limited Trials in the Intensive Care Unit to Promote Goal-Concordant Patient Care

Todd D. Vankerkhoff, Elizabeth M. Viglianti, Michael E. Detsky, Jacqueline M. Kruser*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Consider the hypothetical case of a 75-year-old patient admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) for acute hypoxemic respiratory failure due to pneumonia and systolic heart failure. Although she suffers from a potentially treatable infection, her advanced age and chronic illness increase her risk of experiencing a poor outcome. Her family feels conflicted about whether the use of mechanical ventilation would be acceptable given what they understand about her values and preferences. In the ICU setting, clinicians, patients, and surrogate decision-makers frequently face challenges of prognostic uncertainty and uncertainty with regard to patients' goals and values. Time-limited trials (TLTs) of life-sustaining treatments in the ICU have been proposed as one strategy to help facilitate goal-concordant care in the midst of a complex and high-stakes decision-making environment. TLTs represent an agreement between clinicians and patients or surrogate decision-makers to use a therapy for an agreed-upon time period, with a plan for subsequent reassessment of the patient's progress according to previously established criteria for improvement or decline. Herein, we review the concept of TLTs in intensive care, and explore their potential benefits, barriers, and challenges. Research demonstrates that, in practice, TLTs are conducted infrequently, and often incompletely, and are challenged by system-level factors that diminish their effectiveness. The promise of TLTs in intensive care warrants continued research efforts, including implementation studies to improve adoption and fidelity, observational research to determine optimal time frames for TLTs, and interventional trials to determine whether TLTs ultimately improve the delivery of goal-concordant care in the ICU.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)141-145
Number of pages5
JournalClinical Pulmonary Medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019


  • end of life care
  • goal-concordant care
  • time-limited trials

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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