Patient-centered intensive care units (ICUs) are advocated by professional organizations for critical care nursing and medicine. The patient-centered ICU paradigm recognizes the patient-family unit as inseparable and supports visitation designed to meet the needs of patients and patients’ families.


To understand perceptions about patient-centered ICUs among patients’ family members, physicians, and nurses from 5 ICUs that had restrictive visitation and to guide development of a patient-centered, open visitation paradigm.


Patients’ family members, nurses, and physicians from 5 ICUs with a traditional/restrictive visitation policy at a southeastern academic, tertiary care hospital were invited to participate in focus group meetings to understand perceptions about patient-centered care. All qualitative work was taped, transcribed, reviewed, and corrected after each session. Corrected transcripts and observer notes were integrated and coded.


Patients’ families identified facilitators of patient-centeredness as nurses’ and physicians’ communication, concern, compassion, closeness, and flexibility. However, competing roles of control over the patient’s health care served as barriers to a patient-centered paradigm.


Patient-centered care is an expectation among patients, patients’ families, and health quality advocates. These exploratory methods increased understanding of the powerful perceptions of family members, physicians, and nurses involved with patient care and provided direction to plan interventions to implement patient-centered, family-supportive ICU services.

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