Relaxed ICU visiting hours increase family satisfaction

Critically ill patients' families are happier and the patients themselves do better when hospitals ease their restrictions on who can visit the patients and when, according to the results of a survey published in the American Journal of Critical Care.

Researchers, led by Samuel Brown, M.D., director of Intermountain Medical Center's Center for Humanizing Critical Care, surveyed 103 patient family members and 128 intensive care unit (ICU) nurses. Brown and his team surveyed about half of each group before and after the implementation of a policy that allowed visits at all hours, replacing rules that allowed 90-minute visits each morning and evening.

Among the post-implementation group, family members were significantly more satisfied, as were ICU nurses' perceptions of their satisfaction, although the nurses themselves reported no change in their own satisfaction. "These findings support open and patient-centered visitation guidelines in critical care settings," the researchers wrote.

The findings are more than theoretical; numerous providers have already relaxed or eliminated visitation restrictions, recognizing the importance of giving families and patients what they prefer in an era of patient-centered care. In 2014, Chattanooga, Tennessee's Erlanger Health System announced it would abandon its rules allowing ICU visitors three half-hour visits daily, instead offering 16 consecutive hours a day, FierceHealthcare previously reported. And New Jersey's Morristown Medical Center did away with limits entirely, offering visitor access 24 hours a day and seven days a week, a change that brought with it an improved patient satisfaction rating.

"The term 'visiting hours' is obsolete due to the growing evidence related to the wide-ranging benefits of open access for ICU families," Brown said in a statement.

To learn more:
- here's the survey abstract
- read the statement