Theorising survivorship after intensive care: A systematic review of patient and family experiences

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Aims and Objective
This systematic literature review explores and maps what we know about survivorship to understand how survivorship can be theoretically defined.

Background: Survivorship of critical illness has been identified as a challenge for the 21st Century. Whilst the use of the term ‘survivorship’ is now common in critical care, it has been borrowed from the cancer literature where the discourse on what survivorship means in a cancer context is ongoing and remains largely descriptive. In the absence of a theoretical understanding, the term ‘survivorship’ is often used in critical illness in a generic way, limiting our understanding of what survivorship is. The current COVID‐19 pandemic adds to an urgency of understanding what intensive care unit (ICU) survivorship might mean, given the emerging long‐term consequences of this patient cohort. We set out to explore how survivorship after critical illness is being conceptualised and what the implications might be for clinical practice and research.

Design: Integrated systematic literature review. The review protocol was registered with PROSPERO International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews. PRISMA guidelines were followed and a PRISMA checklist for reporting systematic reviews completed.

Results: The three main themes around which the reviewed studies were organised are: (a) healthcare system; (b) ICU survivors’ families; and (c) ICU survivor's identity. These three themes feed into an overarching core theme of ‘ICU Survivorship Experiences’. These themes map our current knowledge of what happens when a patient survives a critical illness and where we are in understanding ICU survivorship.

Conclusion: We mapped in this systematic review the different pieces of the jigsaw that emerge following critical illness to understand and see the bigger picture of what happens after patients survive critical illness. It is evident that existing research has mapped these connections, but what we have not managed to do yet is defining what survivorship is theoretically. We offer a preliminary definition of survivorship as a process but are aware that this definition needs to be developed further with patients and families.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Clinical Nursing
Early online date7 Apr 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Apr 2021

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • critical care
  • critical illness
  • integrated systemic review
  • intensive care
  • survivorship


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