Healthcare provider perspectives on parental refusal of medical interventions: A qualitative study

Mary Glas Gaspers, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Background. Healthcare providers in pediatrics are faced with parents making medical decisions for their children. Refusal to consent to interventions can have life threatening sequelae, yet healthcare workers are provided little training in handling refusals. The healthcare provider's experience in parental refusal has not been well described, yet is an important first step in addressing this problem. Specific aims. Describe: (1) the decision-making processes made by healthcare providers when parents refuse medical interventions for their children, (2) the source of healthcare workers' skills in handling situations of refusal, and (3) the perspectives of healthcare workers on parental refusals in the inpatient setting. Methods. Nurses, physicians and respiratory therapists (RT) were recruited via e-mail at Texas Children's Hospital (TCH). Interview questions were developed using Social Cognitive Theory constructs and validated. One-on-one in-depth, one hour semi-structured interviews were held at TCH, audio recorded and transcribed. Coding and analysis were done using ATLAS ti. The constant comparative method was applied to describe emergent themes that were reviewed by an independent expert. Results. Interviews have been conducted with nurses (n=6), physicians and practitioners (n=6), social workers (n=3) and RT (n=3) comprising 13 females and 5 males with 3–25 years of experience. Decision-making processes relate to the experience of the caregiver, familiarity with the family, and the acuity of the patient. Healthcare workers' skills were obtained through orientation processes or by trial-and-error. Themes emerged that related to the importance of: (1) Communication, where the initial discussion about a medical procedure should be done with clarity and an understanding of the parents' views; (2) Perceived loss of control by parents, a key factor in their refusal of interventions; and (3) Training, the need for skill development to handle refusals. Conclusions. Effective training involving clarity in communication and a preservation of perceived control by parents is needed to avoid the current trial-and-error experience of healthcare workers in negotiating refusal situations. Such training could lessen the more serious outcomes of parental refusal.

Subject Area

Surgery|Public health

Recommended Citation

Gaspers, Mary Glas, "Healthcare provider perspectives on parental refusal of medical interventions: A qualitative study" (2008). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1450275.