Early Integration of Palliative Care in Families of Children with Single Ventricle Congenital Heart Defects: A Quality Improvement Project to Enhance Family Support

  • Jo Ann M. DavisEmail author
  • Alice Bass
  • Lisa Humphrey
  • Karen Texter
  • Amy Garee
Original Article


Children with single ventricle congenital heart defects (SVCHD) experience a significant risk of early mortality throughout their lifespan, particularly during their first year of life. Due to the intense care needed for these children and families, pediatric palliative care (PPC) team consults should be routine; however, medical staff are often reluctant to broach the idea of PPC to families. The involvement of PPC for many carries with it an association to end-of-life (EOL) care. Setting the standard of PPC involvement from the time of admission for the first palliative surgery led to increased family support, decreased days to consult, improved acceptance and communication. The purpose of this article is to describe a quality improvement project of early integration of PPC with families of children with SVCHD. Lessons learned will be presented, including the resources needed and the barriers encountered in assimilating PPC into the standard of care for all patients with SVCHD. The single ventricle (SV) and PPC teams collaborated to enhance the support given to SV families. Education was initiated with cardiology and PPC providers to understand the goal of consistent PPC consults beginning after birth for patients with SVCHD. Parents were educated during fetal consultation regarding the involvement of the PPC team. The SV team ensured compliance with the PPC initiative by identifying eligible patients and requesting consult orders from the primary providers. PPC consultation increased significantly over the 40 month study period to nearly 100% compliance for children with SVCHD who are undergoing pre-Fontan surgery. In addition, mean days to consult decreased dramatically during the study to a current average of 3 days into the patient’s hospitalization; the data likely suggest that more PPC consults were routinely ordered versus urgently placed for unexpected complications. Data indicate that patients are being followed by the PPC team at an earlier age and stage in their SV journey which allows for more opportunity to provide meaningful support to these patients and families. The early involvement of the PPC team for children with SV physiology was operationally feasible and was accepted by families, thus allowing PPC providers to establish a therapeutic relationship early in the disease trajectory with the family. It allowed more continuity throughout the SV journey in a proactive fashion rather than a reactive manner.


Cardiac Pediatric Palliative End-of-life Collaboration Single ventricle 



We would like to acknowledge Victoria von Sadovszky, PhD, RN, FAAN and Cliff Cua, MD for their mentoring and Kevin Dolan for his assistance with the figures.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent: There is no identifying information about participants in the article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nationwide Children’s HospitalColumbusUSA
  2. 2.Nationwide Children’s HospitalThe Ohio State School of MedicineColumbusUSA

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