Healthcare News & Insights

Make your ICU more family centered

Critically ill patients in hospitals need a great deal of support. Besides round-the-clock care from trained professionals, patients in the intensive care unit must also have support from their family members. The environment in the ICU isn’t always conducive to family involvement. New guidance hopes to change that. 

The Society of Critical Care Medicine has created a set of guidelines for hospitals to promote a more family-centered experience for patients in the ICU, according to a news release.

Better environment for families, patients

Per the society’s ICU Liberation website, which is devoted to providing facilities with advice for improving the ICU experience, hospitals that want to provide more family-centered care must focus on keeping patients and families informed, while actively involving them in decision making.

Because critical illness can be stressful for patients and their families, with lingering effects that can last months after an ICU stay ends, the new guidelines were designed to dull any negative effects by increasing family engagement and involvement.

Guidelines focus on five critical areas:

  1. Family presence in the ICU. Hospitals should allow an “open or flexible” family presence in the ICU, giving family members as many opportunities as possible to interact with the patient throughout the stay. In addition, staff should work as partners with families regarding patient care, encouraging families to be involved in the process.
  2. Family support. To help support the patient’s recovery, family members should receive clear instructions on how to help with the person’s care. Clinical staff should try to get families to understand the treatment process to the best of their ability, taking families’ concept of illness and any cultural beliefs in mind. Staff should also do their best to provide patients and their families with emotional support when needed.
  3. Communication with family members. Keeping the lines of communication open between family members and staff throughout the patient’s ICU stay is essential. It strengthens families’ trust in providers, and it helps lower the risks of patients and their families developing signs of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Plus, it improves patient outcomes by empowering families with the tools to help their loved one during the recovery period.
  4. Specific consultations with various professionals. Besides interacting with ICU staff, patients and their families should also be referred to other appropriate professionals to serve related needs, including spiritual advisors, psychologists and social workers. Families should also have access to consultations for palliative care and other end-of-life treatment, if necessary.
  5. Operational and environmental issues. Along with just encouraging family members to spend time with the patient, hospitals should have specific policies in place to address any barriers to family involvement and to specifically encourage family-centered care. Example: Create a designated space for family members to sleep so they won’t have to leave hospital grounds.

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