When visiting a person who is critically ill, take a moment to prepare yourself prior to visiting. Ask a doctor or nurse exactly what you should expect. Every patient is different and situations can change from one visit to another. Remember the purpose of your visit is to help the patient.
Tips for families of Intensive Care Patients
1. Make sure the hospital can get in touch with you
In the case of families of critically ill patients, make sure the hospital knows how to contact you by telephone, beeper or cell phone. NOTE: The use of cell telephones inside the hospital is strictly prohibited as they use radio frequencies that may interfere with patient monitoring systems. However, they may be used on the first floor of the hospital waiting areas along with free wireless internet access.
2. Talk to your doctor and nursing staff
The doctor who is charged with the primary care of the patient will usually act as the central point of information about patient condition, options, plan of treatment and forecast for the future. In some cases, a specialist will collaborate in the treatment and will also be available to provide information to families. Families are encouraged to ask questions when information is not clear or understandable.
3. Select a family contact person
Many families find it useful to select a “contact person” to meet with doctors and relay information to others. That person should write down key facts to be prepared to convey detailed information with precision and can be responsible for posing questions on behalf of individuals.
4. Provide patient wishes regarding treatment
When the patient is unable to communicate, it is the family’s responsibility to convey the patient’s wishes regarding surgery, life support measures, resuscitation and other difficult decisions that will guide the doctors and staff in making treatment choices. Provide copies of appropriate documents or other proof of the patient’s wishes if such material exists. Make sure any advance directives are written on the hospital chart to alert everyone involved in patient treatment and care.
5. Avoid “taking over” a waiting area
Families should be aware of the needs of others who are using the waiting areas. In times of crisis, we become so focused on “our” situation that we may forget to be courteous to others with their own family crisis. Families are urged to not “take over” an area. Waiting rooms are public spaces are available for everyone. If the area becomes crowded, it is is a good idea to move some of the family to other facilities in the hospital or to stagger visits to make room for others.
6. Children under the age of 14 are not allowed in the ICU
And the reasons are obvious - the tubes, the machines, the patient’s condition can be frightening enough for adults visitors. Children can detract from the patient’s comfort and add anxiety at a time when the patient needs to be calm and restful.
7. Limit two visitors at one time
Immediate family members are permitted and encouraged to have brief visits with ICU patients. Please limit two visitors at a time at the bedside. Four 30-minute visiting periods are scheduled throughout the day, but families are reminded that patients in ICU need plenty of rest and care. Many families select a rotating “visitor” to check on the patient and then report to others. This provides maximum information and minimum intrusion in the healing process.
Let the patient know you are there. Even if your loved one is not as alert as usual, a familiar voice can be comforting.
Don’t be afraid to touch the patient. Be cautious of equipment, but be reassured that a touch may be the very best thing you can do for a loved one.
Be positive and supportive. Let the patient know you are concerned and ready to be of help. Share the concerns and well wishes of other family members not able to visit.
Avoid subjects that might upset the patient.
Listen when the patient wants to talk. Sharing a thought may be an important way to help a patient relieve stress.
Recognized that a short visit is better than a long one. Patients love visitors, but they also need time to recover and rest.