Perspectives on the Effectiveness of a Medical Futility Policy

Bryan Kaps, H. Alexander Chen, Gary S. Kopf, and John Encandela




      Background. The principal aim of this study was to investigate the function and effectiveness of an institutional policy that outlines a procedure to limit medically futile interventions. We were interested in the attitudes and opinions of careproviders and the members of the Yale New Haven Hospital Ethics Committee that use this policy, the Conscientious Practice Policy (CPP), to address questions on appropriate interventions in the setting of medical futility.

      Methods. In 2019, we conducted three focus groups of members of the Yale New Haven Hospital Ethics Committee and critical care physicians, asking participants questions concerning their use of the Yale New Haven Hospital’s policy on limiting futile interventions. Focus group transcript results were coded into common themes using a conventional analysis approach.

      Results. The overarching finding was that the CPP had various levels of interpretation that prevented its effective and consistent use. This was supported by the four main themes from the focus groups: (1) Mixed perceptions regarding communication between careproviders and family members and surrogates before the CPP was invoked contributed to complexity in decision making. (2) It was ineffective to use an ethics consultation to decide whether or not to invoke the CPP. (3) It was necessary to address moral distress in the absence of a policy. (4) The use of the CPP was inconsistent for different patients, based on the degree to which family members and surrogates persisted in their resistance to limiting medically futile interventions, careproviders’ comfort with directly making decisions, and bias towards members of certain groups.

            Conclusion. The CPP, as it has been used at the Yale New Haven Hospital, has been ineffective in rationally, fairly, and consistently resolving conflicts regarding the appropriateness of ending medically futile interventions. The CPP, as well as similar policies at other institutions, may benefit from restructuring the policy to more closely align with policies at other institutions where outcomes have been more successful.



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