MUSC study shows critical illness awareness influenced by race

Tony Ciuffo

July 26, 2010

MUSC study shows critical illness awareness influenced by race

Other factors include faith and quality of life

CHARLESTON -- Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) announced the results of a study that illness perceptions among critically ill patients and surrogates are influenced by factors including race, faith, and pre-critical illness quality of life. Notably, factors such as illness severity and survival did not influence illness perceptions.

Patients and families must make decisions under significant stress in an ICU setting. Because most critically ill patients are unable to make their own decisions about preferences of care, surrogates are often relied on to for making decisions. Communication between patients, families, and clinicians is particularly important and decision making is impacted by perceptions of prognosis and treatment options.

The study, which focused on 23 patients and 77 surrogates and was conducted in a university intensive care unit using a prospective survey, was led by Dee Ford, MD, MSc, FCCP.

"Our study investigated five aspects of illness perception including how serious patients and surrogates perceived it to be, how much emotional impact the critical illness had, how well patients and surrogates understood the illness, how much confidence in personal control respondents perceived, and how much confidence respondents had in the treatments being used,” said Ford. Generally, African Americans were more optimistic about the critical illness reporting it as being less serious, having less emotional impact, and having greater personal control."

According to Ford, African Americans reported lower comprehension of the illness. In instances of lower reported quality of life, respondents were more pessimistic about the illness including greater concern the illness would be enduring and have serious consequences. These findings held after accounting for other factors related to illness perceptions. Notably, clinical indicators of illness severity were not related to respondents’ perception of the illness.

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, The Medical University of South Carolina is the oldest medical school in the South. Today, MUSC continues the tradition of excellence in education, research, and patient care. MUSC educates and trains more than 3,000 students and residents, and has nearly 11,000 employees, including 1,500 faculty members. As the largest non-federal employer in Charleston, the university and its affiliates have collective annual budgets in excess of $1.7 billion. MUSC operates a 750-bed medical center, which includes a nationally recognized Children's Hospital, the Ashley River Tower (cardiovascular, digestive disease, and surgical oncology), and a leading Institute of Psychiatry. For more information on academic information or clinical services, visit or