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‘I’m praying for a miracle’: characteristics of spiritual statements in paediatric intensive care unit care conferences


Context Supporting spiritual needs is a well-established aspect of palliative care, but no data exist regarding how physicians engage with patients and families around spirituality during care conferences in paediatric intensive care units (PICU).

Objectives To assess the frequency and characteristics of family and physician spiritual statements in PICU care conferences.

Methods We performed qualitative analysis of 71 transcripts from PICU conferences, audio-recorded at an urban, quaternary medical centre. Transcripts were derived from a single-centre, cross-sectional, qualitative study.

Results We identified spiritual language in 46% (33/71) of PICU care conferences. Spiritual statements were divided relatively evenly between family member (51%, 67/131) and physician statements (49%, 64/131). Physician responses to families’ spiritual statements were coded as supportive (46%, 31/67), deferred (30%, 20/67), indifferent (24%, 16/67) or exploratory (0/67).

Conclusions In this single-centre PICU, spiritual statements were present 46% of the time during high stakes decision-making conferences, but there was little evidence of spiritual care best practices, such as offering chaplain support and performing open-ended spiritual assessments. PICU clinicians should expect spiritual statements in care conferences and be prepared to respond.

  • communication
  • paediatrics
  • spiritual care
  • family management
  • hospital care

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