Impact of Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders on Nursing Clinical Decision Making

Rebecca Engels, Casey Graziani, Ixavier Higgins, Jessica Thompson, Roberta Kaplow, Theresa E. Vettese, Annie Massart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Code status specifies the action that healthcare providers should take in the event of cardiac arrest. Studies have shown, however, that patients with do-not-resuscitate/do-not-intubate (DNR/DNI) orders have worse outcomes and do not consistently receive the standard of care. Several studies have demonstrated that physicians behave differently toward patients with DNR/DNI orders, but little research exists into whether DNR/DNI status affects the practice of other members of the care team. Our objective was to determine whether code status affects decision making by nursing staff. Methods This was an anonymous, self-administered survey of nurses between April 2018 and March 2019 using SurveyMonkey. The survey contained four previously published clinical vignettes followed by a series of questions regarding specific interventions tailored to reflect nursing escalation of care. Our focus was two local hospitals: one large academic quaternary-referral center and one large community hospital. Registered nurses on medical-surgical units identified based on available unit-specific e-mail listservs from both hospitals were the participants. Nurses in higher-acuity units were excluded. Results Nurses are significantly less likely to call rapid response or a physician when a patient undergoes certain changes in clinical status if the patient is labeled as DNR/DNI rather than full code. For all of the vignettes, respondents were less likely to say they would call rapid response or a physician for patients with a DNR/DNI status who developed tachycardia (P < 0.001). Nurses also were less likely to escalate care for patients with DNR/DNI status who developed tachypnea or mental status changes. Nurses were equally likely to call a physician for the development of abdominal pain or new hypotension (P > 0.05). Nurses with >3 years of experience were less likely to escalate care throughout the vignettes (odds ratio <1). Conclusions This study is the first to demonstrate that code status affects decision making by nursing staff. It highlights the limitations that code status designations create with regard to patient care. By acknowledging that patients with DNR/DNI orders receive different care, we can create systems in which patients are treated equally, regardless of their code status.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)330-336
Number of pages7
JournalSouthern medical journal
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • advanced care planning
  • code status
  • nursing care
  • nursing clinical decision making

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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