Evidence shows that the unrestricted presence and participation of a support person (ie, family as defined by the patient) can improve the safety of care and enhance patient and family satisfaction. This is especially true in the intensive care unit (ICU), where the patients are usually intubated and cannot speak for themselves. Unrestricted visitation from such a support person can improve communication, facilitate a better understanding of the patient, advance patient- and family-centered care, and enhance staff satisfaction.

In practice, 78% of ICU nurses in adult critical care units prefer unrestricted policies7–13 ; yet, studies show that 70% of hospitals’ ICU policies restrict family visitation.3,7–9,13,14  This disconnect creates conflict between nurses and confusion in patients’ families.10,15 

Some ICU nurses believe that family visitation increases physiological stress in the...

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