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Challenges and barriers to optimising sedation in intensive care: a qualitative study in eight Scottish intensive care units

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Original languageEnglish
Article number024549
Number of pages9
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number5
Early online date24 May 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 May 2019


Objectives Various strategies to promote light sedation are highly recommended in recent guidelines, as deep sedation is associated with suboptimum patient outcomes. Yet, the challenges met by clinicians in delivering high-quality analgosedation is rarely addressed. As part of the evaluation of a cluster-randomised quality improvement trial in eight Scottish intensive care units (ICUs), we aimed to understand the challenges to optimising sedation in the Scottish ICU settings prior to the trial. This article reports on the findings.

Design A qualitative exploratory design: We conducted focus groups (FG) with clinicians during the preintervention period. Setting and participants: Eight Scottish ICUs. Nurses, physiotherapists and doctors working in each ICU volunteered to participate. FG were recorded and verbatim transcribed and inserted in NVivo V.10 for analysis. Qualitative thematic analysis was undertaken to develop emergent themes from the patterns identified in relation to sedation practice. Ethical approval was secured by Scotland A Research ethics committee.

Results Three themes emerged from the inductive analysis: (a) a recent shift in sedation practice, (b) uncertainty in decision-making and (c) system-level factors including the ICU environment, organisational factors and educational gaps. Clinicians were challenged daily to manage agitated or difficult-to-sedate patients in the era of a progressive mantra of 'just sedate less' imposed by the pain-agitation-delirium guidelines.

Conclusions The current implementation of guidelines does not support behaviour change strategies to allow a patient-focused approach to sedation management, which obstructs optimum sedation-analgesia management. Recognition of the various challenges when mandating less sedation needs to be considered and novel sedation-analgesia strategies should allow a system-level approach to improve sedation-analgesia quality.

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