Family needs and involvement in the intensive care unit: a literature review

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Aims and objectives

To understand the needs of critically ill patient families', seeking to meet those needs and explore the process and patterns of involving family members during routine care and resuscitation and other invasive procedures.


A structured literature review using Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Pubmed, Proquest, Google scholar, Meditext database and a hand search of critical care journals via identified search terms for relevant articles published between 2000 and 2010.


Thirty studies were included in the review either undertaken in the Intensive Care Unit or conducted with critical care staff using different methods of inquiry. The studies were related to family needs; family involvement in routine care; and family involvement during resuscitation and other invasive procedures. The studies revealed that family members ranked both the need for assurance and the need for information as the most important. They also perceived their important needs as being unmet, and identified the nurses as the best staff to meet these needs, followed by the doctors. The studies demonstrate that both family members and healthcare providers have positive attitudes towards family involvement in routine care. However, family members and healthcare providers had significantly different views of family involvement during resuscitation and other invasive procedures.


Meeting Intensive Care Unit family needs can be achieved by supporting and involving families in the care of the critically ill family member. More emphasis should be placed on identifying the family needs in relation to the influence of cultural values and religion held by the family members and the organisational climate and culture of the working area in the Intensive Care Unit.

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