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April 13, 2015 - USA Medical Center Institutes Open Visitation in ICU


Traditionally, hospital intensive care units have had a restricted visitation policy, limiting patient visits to short windows of time at certain hours of the day. But USA Medical Center has recently instituted open visitation in several of its ICUs as part of the hospital’s focus on patient and family centered care, and in response to some compelling facts. 

“The data is clear that both patients and families do better with open visitation,” says Dr. Karen Fagan, chief of critical care medicine. “By having a family member or close friend nearby, the patient has less anxiety and needs less sedation and pain meds. For the family, it’s stressful only seeing your loved one intermittently. But with open visitation, they become more a part of the treatment team.” 

While less restrictive, open visitation at the Medical Center does not mean an unlimited number of visitors at all hours. Due to space limitations and to help with managerial duties, patients are limited to two visitors at a time, and the units are closed during shift changes from 6 to 8 pm.  

The new policy came out of the Patient Centered Care committee, which was assigned to explore the issue by Hospital Administrator Beth Anderson. After extensive research, the group decided to move forward with open visitation, but not before instituting some changes. 

First, two guest relations attendants were added to assist in the waiting areas. An registered nurse, who serves as unit patient educator, was also hired to spend extensive one-on-one time with the families and patients explaining the new diagnosis and treatment.  The program was also piloted first in the Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit in December, and then expanded to the Progressive Care Unit and Surgical Trauma Intensive Care Unit. 

According to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, 70 percent of hospitals have restricted visitation policies. While Fagan admits that the new open visitation policy is still a work in progress, the feedback from patients and families has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We have always had excellent medical care here at the Medical Center,” says Dr. Fagan. “This is part of making sure our patient’s psychological needs are taken care of as well.”

About the University of South Alabama Medical Center 

The University of South Alabama Medical Center offers patient-centered care to the central Gulf Coast with unique services including Mobile’s only Level I Trauma Center and Regional Burn Center, plus Centers of Excellence in stroke care and cardiovascular diseases, and a wide range of acute care services. 

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