Therapeutic Alliance Between Bereaved Parents and Physicians in the PICU

Markita Suttle, Mark W. Hall, Murray M. Pollack, Robert A. Berg, Patrick S. McQuillen, Peter M. Mourani, Anil Sapru, Joseph A. Carcillo, Emily Startup, Richard Holubkov, J. Michael Dean, Daniel A. Notterman, Kathleen L. Meert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Objectives: Therapeutic alliance is the collaborative bond that develops between patients/families and healthcare providers. Our objective is to determine the extent of therapeutic alliance bereaved parents perceive to have occurred with their child's physicians during their child's PICU stay, and associated factors. Design: Multicenter observational study. Setting: Eight children's hospitals affiliated with the Collaborative Pediatric Critical Care Research Network. Patients: Parents greater than or equal to 18 years old whose child died in a PICU (including cardiac ICU). Interventions: Bereaved parents completed the Human Connection Scale, a 16-item measure of therapeutic alliance, 6 months after their child's death. Human Connection Scale scores range from 16 to 64 with higher scores indicating greater alliance. Parents provided sociodemographic data, and medical records were reviewed for the child's clinical characteristics. Measurements and Main Results: Two-hundred and thirty-three parents of 157 deceased children responded to the Human Connection Scale with greater than or equal to 80% item completion. Among parents, 146 (62.7%) were female, 155 (66.5%) were White and 46 (19.7%) were Black, 175 (75.1%) were married, and 209 (89.7%) had at least a high-school education. Among children, median age at the time of death was 5.9 years (interquartile range, 0.64-13.9 yr) and 114 (72.6%) died after limitation or withdrawal of life support. Mean Human Connection Scale score was 51.4 ± 11.1 for all parents, 52.6 ± 9.0 for White parents, and 47.0 ± 13.7 for Black parents. In multivariable modeling predicting Human Connection Scale scores, race was the only parent or child characteristic in the final model. Human Connection Scale scores were significantly different (-4.56; 95% CI, -8.53 to -0.6; p = 0.025) between the Black and White parents with items about trust, care, and honest communication showing the greatest mean difference. Conclusions: Among parents bereaved in the PICU, therapeutic alliance with physicians is moderately high. Future research should identify strategies to strengthen therapeutic alliance with Black parents and examine the role of alliance on bereaved parents' health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E243-E252
JournalPediatric Critical Care Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


  • bereavement
  • child
  • parent
  • pediatric intensive care unit
  • physician
  • race
  • therapeutic alliance


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