The Use of Decision Analysis to Examine Ethical Decision Making by Critical Care Nurses
Hughes, Katharine Kostbade
Dvorak, Eileen McQuaid
Heart and Lung. 1997 May-Jun; 26(3): 238-248.
OBJECTIVE: To examine the extent to which critical care staff nurses make ethical decisions that coincide with those recommended by a decision analytic model. DESIGN: Nonexperimental, ex post facto. SETTING: Midwestern university-affiliated 500 bed tertiary care medical center. SUBJECTS: One hundred critical care staff nurses randomly selected from seven critical care units. Complete responses were obtained from 82 nurses (for a final response rate of 82%). MEASURES: The dependent variable -- consistent decision making -- was measured as staff nurses' abilities to make ethical decisions that coincided with those prescribed by the decision model. Subjects completed two instruments, the Ethical Decision Analytic Model, a computer-administered instrument designed to measure staff nurses' abilities to make consistent decisions about a chemically-impaired colleague; and a Background Inventory. RESULTS: The results indicate marked consensus among nurses when informal methods were used. However, there was little consistency between the nurses' informal decisions and those recommended by the decision analytic model. Although 50% (n = 41) of all nurses chose a course of action that coincided with the model's least optimal alternative, few nurses agreed with the model as to the most optimal course of action. The findings also suggest that consistency was unrelated (p greater than 0.05) to the nurses' educational background or years of clinical experience; that most subjects reported receiving little or no education in decision making during their basic nursing education programs; but that exposure to decision-making strategies was related to years of nursing experience (p less than 0.05). CONCLUSIONS: The findings differ from related studies that have found a moderate degree of consistency between nurses and decision analytic models for strictly clinical decision tasks, especially when those tasks were less complex. However, the findings partially coincide with other findings that decision analysis may not be particularly well-suited to the critical care environment. Additional research is needed to determine whether critical care nurses use the same decision-making methods as do other nurses; and to clarify the effects of decision task (clinical versus ethical) on nurses' decision making. It should not be assumed that methods used to study nurses' clinical decision making are applicable for all nurses or all types of decisions, including ethical decisions.
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