Improving patient and family satisfaction is on the minds of hospitals and health system leaders across the country, and, according to one study, developing more flexible visitation policies that focus on individual patient needs is a smart place to begin.

The recent article, “Satisfaction With Elimination of all Visitation Restrictions in a Mixed-Profile Intensive Care Unit,” published in the January issue of American Journal of Critical Care found that eliminating the smallest of visitation restrictions led to improved family satisfaction and better nursing perceptions of family satisfaction during the visit.

The study, led by Diane Chapman, R.N., surveyed 103 family members (50 before and 53 after the change in visitation policy) and 128 nurses (61 before and 67 after the change in policy) in an intensive care unit at Intermountain Medical Center, Murray, Utah. 

“Families were delighted with the greater accessibility to their loved ones,” says Samuel Brown, M.D., director of Intermountain’s Center for Humanizing Critical Care.

While the old visitation policy only prevented visits during a 90-minute window, during the period nurses changed shifts, nurses were noticing many tired and upset families who had just got off work and wanted to comfort loved ones instead of having to comfort one another in the waiting room. The new policy has no restrictions, welcoming visitors at all times, limited solely by patient preference and clinical status.

The findings were overwhelmingly positive. Researchers noted the new open-door visitation policy improved overall family satisfaction with visiting hours as well as fostering a more positive experience in waiting rooms. Nurses were able to notice a positive upswing in visitor satisfaction and reported no decrease in their own satisfaction.

“The waiting room used to be a place families were shuffled into, but now it can become a place to clear your head,” says Brown.

Many hospitals are beginning to rethink their dated visitation policies, moving toward a more patient-friendly, open visitation system. With no new risk found in the study, the argument for open visitation is hard to ignore.

“I see hospitals moving toward the morally correct choice,” says Brown. “More and more hospitals are realizing we can’t keep excluding the loved ones of our patients. It’s a delicate time for people.”