ICU Waiting Room

What is the best way to share the medical information with family and friends?

During this difficult time, everyone is anxious to learn the latest information. Exactly what is wrong with the patient? What is the prognosis? When will the patient be released from the ICU?

Accurately sharing and communicating such information is very important.

There are numerous reasons communication can become distorted. It is best if you do not try to "translate" your communications with doctors and nurses. Doing so often leads to unintentional miscommunication within the circle of family and friends, which may create additional confusion. Due to stress, this is a difficult time to try to learn and retain a lot of new, unfamiliar information.

Communication has two components - what is stated and what is perceived (i.e., how the recipient understands what they heard, saw, or read). If communication between two people is inaccurate, then the second person miscommunicates with a third person, etc., one can imagine how distorted information may ultimately become.

The good news is there are ways to prevent this from happening. One person should be the family spokesperson that interacts with the doctors and nurses. This way there is one source for the information to be shared. Another benefit is that it allows the medical professionals and family spokesperson to develop a relationship and continually improve their communication with each other.

The spokesperson should keep asking questions until he/she understands the answers well enough to accurately communicate them to others. That level of understanding will also enable the family to better plan appropriate additional questions for the doctors and nurses and participate in making treatment decisions.

This is one of the key goals of the web site - to explain critical illness and injury, procedures, equipment, etc., in such a way that the lay person can understand them. By grasping the meaning of unfamiliar medical terms, you can deal with the issues in common, everyday English. You will be able to communicate more comfortably and to make a more significant contribution to the health care of your loved one.

Finally, remember that everyone close to the situation is dealing with their own feelings - which, depending on their closeness to the patient, may range from concern to being overwhelmed. Family members may become exhausted, both physically and emotionally. They seek emotional support at the same time they are extending it to others. We all react differently to uncertainty, anxiety, and fear of the unknown. Respect each other's need for time to be alone and to respond to the situation in different ways.

All family members and friends can use this web site to better familiarize themselves with the ICU environment - the medical conditions, procedures, equipment, etc. Information can be copied from the web site, printed and distributed to family and friends to help everybody better understand the situation. We hope this information benefits the entire family during this difficult time.

How often should we speak with the doctor?

This is partially your decision as well. Doctors vary in how much time they allow for families. Remember, you need to have your needs met. Usually daily discussions with the doctor are appropriate. If the family is large, it is probably best for one family member to act as the spokesperson. If the doctor is visiting once a day, put your questions in writing and make certain they get answered. If you have an immediate need, do not hesitate to call the doctor or nurse.

What should I say to the patient?

Talk to the patient as you normally would, even if you are not sure the patient can hear you. Be supportive and loving. Watch the patient's response. It may indicate how you should proceed.

How long should I visit?

Visit as much as it helps the patient. However, you must also take care of yourself and, perhaps, other family members. It is often best to talk with your nurse to see what is best for the patient.

Should I stay all day?

Usually, no. Remember you need to take of yourself. Get the rest and food you need. Doing so will help keep you strong, able to think clearly and make the best contribution to the care of the patient.

Should I bring anything from home?

Possibly. Things that might help the patient relax or sleep are generally a good idea. Photographs, a favorite robe or slippers, etc., can make patients feel more comfortable. However, always check with your nurse before bringing anything into the ICU.

Can I touch the patient?

Of course. However, make sure you have thoroughly washed your hands and talked to the nurse first. Sometimes, the doctor and nurse may want you to wear gloves or a gown to avoid spreading germs. Generally, hold the patient's hand, brush their hair, or do whatever makes them feel better.

How can the patient communicate with a breathing tube in place?

The breathing tube can make speaking very difficult. If it is too difficult for the patient to speak, try giving him/her a pen and large pad of paper. Keep exchanges simple. Do not ask questions that require long answers. Ask the nurse for help if you cannot communicate to your satisfaction.

Why are visiting hours limited?

Visiting hours are designed to help improve the recovery of your loved one. Most hospitals realize visiting hours should be tailored to what the patient and family members need. If the hospital visiting hours do not meet your needs, talk to the nurse to see what other arrangements can be made.

How long should we wait after we call for a nurse to enter the room?

Depending on what is needed, the wait should not be too long. Most nurses try to meet a patient's needs immediately. If pain or another symptom is present, the nurse should respond within a few minutes. Often the nurse might be busy with another patient. However, this should be the exception, not the rule. If the patient's needs are not being met on a timely basis, talk to the nurse and see what can be done to improve response time.