Visitation in the ICU

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A recent article at sparked my interest. Limited (or scheduled) visitation versus unlimited visitation hours?

As a nurse, the reflex answer should be: Whatever is better for the patient.

I honestly feel anything that can improve the delivery of care is a good thing, but you’ll be hard pressed to find many nurses who are advocates of unlimited visiting hours.

It’s a touchy subject, isn’t it? I don’t think anyone is completely for or against either choice.

The article (AACN calls for expanding visitation rights in ICU) says:

Hospitals may limit visiting hours under the assumption that family visitation causes stress for the patient, interferes with the provision of care, is mentally exhausting to patients and families or contributes to increased infections.

Other than the increased infections, I’d agree with that statement. I’ve seen many times where my patient’s recovery in the ICU is hampered due to exhaustion from too many visitors. I think many patients try to “entertain” or talk with their visitors when they sometimes all they need is rest.

I think we as nurses have to put our personal feelings aside and consider what is ideal and best for our patients. If that means structured visitation, great. If that means unlimited visitation, so be it. I’m willing to admit, my reflex reaction to the unlimited visitation is, “You’ve got to be kidding me?”

I think there are just certain aspects of the care we give that do not need to be witnessed by family and loved ones. But then as I say it out loud, I wonder if it could be portrayed as “hiding” something? Or not wanting the family to see a mistake I could make?


Maybe we all need to have unlimited visitation? This way we don’t get caught up in the task and always remember there is a human being on the other side of the bed, not just an assignment.

We have an amazing responsibility as nurses. We are entrusted with our patients’ most prized possession. It’s our job to continually speak for them when they cannot speak for themselves. That includes proper visitation rights and schedules. What is best for the patient. Period.

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3 Responses to Visitation in the ICU

  1. PatriceMarie

    I have not worked in an ICU situation, but I have been a patient in PACU. Somehow, my husband was able to be by my side once I started waking up. Having him there, holding my hand, was extremely calming and reassuring. I had to have surgery eight weeks later. Same hospital, but they would not allow him w/ me. It was not a good situation. It’s a touchy subject. I say what is overall best for the patient/patient’s request, family dynamics, and nursing needs. Maybe make it one family member (or clergy) at a time, non-visitors adhere to a schedule.

  2. Nurse Rene

    I have seen a huge change in the behavior of visitors in the 36 years since I started nursing. In the beginning people came into an ICU terrified to even BREATHE, much less TOUCH anything.
    Nowadays the Fear is gone. Perhaps due to Readers’ Digest or to modern medical shows where everyone thinks that they, too, can be a doctor.
    I have had family members come in and do ‘examinations’-lifting up sheets to look at Papa’s penis with the catheter in place, removing dressings and looking at the wound, screwing around with IV sites, turning up the oxygen flow rate, etc.
    But the all time most incredible was the elderly wife who came in to visit her husband who had undergone removal of bilateral subdural hematomas just the day before. Before we could get to the bed to STOP her she had removed his dressing and BOTH J/P drains! You can imagine how much fun it was to call the neurosurgeon with that news…