Telemedicine facilitates better family participation in surgical ICU rounds


Family participation in rounds in the surgical intensive care unit can help improve patient care, and telemedicine tools can help keep loved ones involved in discussions.

Researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, in interviewing family members and other stakeholders on the process, found that much of the time, practices surrounding family participation in ICU rounds is inconsistent.

Barriers found in the course of the study include an inability of families to travel to the hospital, other work and prior obligations, as well as the rounding schedule, according to the study, published in the American Journal of Critical Care (AJCC).

The solution? Telemedicine.

“Virtual participation in ICU rounds would not replace a family member’s presence at the bedside but could offer a supplemental way to improve communication between clinicians and families,” co-author Daniel Holena, M.D., said in an announcement touting the study. “The future of using telemedicine for virtual family participation in rounds will depend on user-friendly and reliable platforms.”

Most of the providers and family members interviewed for the study were receptive to using telemedicine to communicate on patient care. Family members also were supportive of the technology because it could reduce trips to the hospital and better enable them to fit participation into busy schedules.

In addition to helping patients and family members, telemedicine technology also has been shown to assist nurses in conducting tasks more quickly, leading to improved performance and communication, according to a previous AJCC study.

However, use of telemedicine is not without its own challenges. At Perelman, the ICU team deployed a program similar to FaceTime, using a table on a pole with wheels and providing family members with a tablet of their own, according to an article at But the care team members soon found that for elderly patients who may also have elderly family members caring for them, the technology was too difficult to use.

Holena said in the article that while family participation in rounding does help with communication, having loved ones sit down with a doctor to discuss the patient’s care remains very important.