Background Within the challenging healthcare environment are nurses, patients, and patients’ families. Families want proximity to their loved ones, but the benefits of such proximity depend on patients’ conditions and family-patient dynamics.

Objectives To describe patients’ preferences for family visiting in an intensive care unit and a complex care medical unit.

Methods Sixty-two patients participated in a structured interview that assessed patients’ preferences for visiting, stressors and benefits of visiting, and patients’ perceived satisfaction with hospital guidelines for visiting.

Results Patients in both units rated visiting as a nonstressful experience because visitors offered moderate levels of reassurance, comfort, and calming. Patients in the intensive care unit worried more about their families than did patients in the complex care medical unit but valued the fact that visitors could interpret information for the patients while providing information to assist the nurse in understanding the patients. Patients in the intensive care unit were more satisfied with visiting practices than were patients in the complex care medical unit, although both groups preferred visits of 35 to 55 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day, and with usually no more than 3 visitors.

Conclusions These data provide the input of patients in the ongoing discussion of visiting practices in both intensive care units and complex care medical units. Patients were very satisfied with a visiting guideline that is flexible enough to meet their needs and those of their family members.

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