Open intensive care unit (ICU) visitation policies facilitate communication between clinicians and patients’ families. Restrictive visitation policies (eg, during a pandemic) may reduce families’ comprehension of information.
To determine whether written communication increased awareness of medical issues among ICU families and whether the effect size depended on the visitation policies in place when participants were enrolled.
Families of ICU patients were randomly assigned to receive usual care with or without daily written patient care updates from June 2019 to January 2021. Participants were asked whether patients had experienced 6 ICU problems at up to 2 time points during the ICU stay. Responses were compared with the study investigators’ consensus.
Of 219 participants, 131 (60%) were restricted from visiting. Participants in the written communication group were more likely than participants in the control group to correctly identify shock, renal failure, and weakness and were just as likely as participants in the control group to correctly identify respiratory failure, encephalopathy, and liver failure. Participants in the written communication group were more likely than participants in the control group to correctly identify the patient’s ICU problems when all 6 were grouped as a composite outcome, with the adjusted odds ratio of correct identification tending to be higher among participants enrolled during restricted versus open visitation periods: 2.9 (95% CI, 1.9-4.2; P < .001) vs 1.8 (95% CI, 1.1-3.1; P = .02), P = .17 for difference.
Written communication helps families correctly identify ICU issues. The benefit may be enhanced when families cannot visit the hospital. ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT03969810