Visiting times in the ICU – are they necessary?

no-entryI am writing this from my perspective as a nurse and understand that it will conflict with the viewpoint of a family who has a loved one in an intensive care unit and possibly many others, even (gasp) some healthcare workers.

From my experience in ICU, patients are generally not able to “visit” with family and friends. A majority of our patients are either intubated and sedated or completely exhausted and weak from illness. We also frequently care for patients that are what we call “no info” patients which can be anything from gunshot wounds to someone who has been beaten or abused and needs to be protected. I feel that set visiting times only add stress to the day in the ICU for all involved. In the unit where I work we have visiting times four times a day, each lasting an hour. Three of these occur on the day shift…which is when I work. We do have the authority to call visitors out at any point if there are procedures to be done or if one of the patient’s conditions suddenly worsens. This is helpful, but not always practical.

During the set visiting times it is not unusual for doctors and nurses to avoid family contact. I do go visit with family initially and give updates when I have them, but I am not a nurse who will hang out in a room with family there. I once overheard another nurse tell family “the more you are in there, the less I will be.” I thought that an interesting statement. It is true. If the family wants us to do our jobs and take care of the patients, we need to be in the room and doing what we are there to do.

Now I am not against all family contact in the ICU, I think it can be decided on an individual basis and for limited times. Of course all pediatric patients would have a parent present at all times. I do not believe family should be kept from a dying family member or that they should be kept away at all times. I understand a family’s wish to be there to care for and show their support for a loved one in critical condition, but it is not always advantageous to the patient. These patients are attached to monitors, have multiple wires, tubes, lines coming from their bodies.. ..they are not dressed, and typically look a mess despite our effort to make them otherwise.

As a side note…

In the 1800’s visiting times were instituted for those that could not pay their hospital bills in an attempt to encourage families to pay. Those that were paying customers had unrestricted visiting times. This still happens today in a way…we have those patients that the hospital recognizes as “VIP” patients. These patients get whatever they want, including family at the bedside if so requested….this is in my opinion completely unethical. How do you explain to the terminal man’s wife next door that she can’t stay but it is ok for the patient in the next room to have his mom, dad and sister at his side at all times, you can’t because it doesn’t make sense!

  • 31 Comments...Your thoughts?


  1. d says:

    ithink it is up to the indivael them selfs as i personal have been there and am going though it again with a family member they are comfortable with me being in icu with them all night i don’t keep the patient up the nurses coming in 24 /7 i understand the need to check on there patient but they say the family member is keeping the patient from getting rest and i know some cases maybe different from others but i never kept them from getting rest and if they needed some that i could do instead of the nurses they wouldn’t have to call the nurses and they could work on other patients that needed more of there time.

  2. d says:

    its crazy about shift changes as the patient may need the information told to there family member that is in the room they need toask the family member if they are comfortable tell that person the information that is in the room as it maybe ahusband or wife that needs to know and instead of them asking questions later of the nurses they already know as not to bother the nurses and if there not walking around out side the room during shift change then they wouldn’t know about other patients only there family member


  1. [...] Visiting hours can be vicious, both on nurses, and on families.  Nefarious Nurse PTO brings up the touchy topic of just what visiting hours should be in high intense areas like the ICU:  Visiting Times in the ICU – Are They Necessary?. [...]

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