Family Presence in Emergencies: The Benefits of Being There

March 17, 2000 (Baltimore) -- Family members who were present when theirloved ones underwent cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or other emergencyprocedures reported the experience as positive and helpful, even when the lovedone died, reports a study in the February issue of the AmericanJournal of Nursing.

"I think it really helps families come to terms with what is happening,to overcome their denial, and to begin the grieving process if death takesplace," says Theresa Meyers, RN, lead author of the study, in an interviewwith WebMD. Meyers is director of the emergency department at PresbyterianHospital of Dallas.

Meyers and colleagues surveyed 39 family members and 96 health careproviders who were present during emergencies, which was defined as attendanceof at least one family member in a location that afforded physical or visualcontact with the patient during CPR or invasive procedures. Both family membersand health care providers were asked to complete a survey designed to assesstheir experience.

All family members indicated that it was important and helpful for them tobe with their loved one during the event. Ninety-five percent of the familymembers reported that the visitation helped them understand the seriousness ofthe patient's condition and know that every possible intervention had beendone. The same percentage believed that their visit helped the patient, evenwhen the patient was unconscious. Also, almost all family members felt thatthey had a right to be present and would do it again.

"Most of the health care providers thought the ... experience wasimportant to families (80%), that it assisted family members in understandingthe patient's condition (89%) and to appreciate that the health care team haddone it's best (93%)," Meyers says.

Carl Soderstrom, MD, professor of surgery at the Shock Trauma Center at theUniversity of Maryland, tells WebMD, "This is certainly a unique approachto patient care, and may make families feel more included in what's going onwith the patient." He adds that in a society filled with malpractice suits,"it may also seem more up front and open to families if they are actuallythere when procedures take place." Soderstrom was not involved in thestudy.

Soderstrom says, "I think it's always good to examine how we do practiceand to look at ways to make things better for families, especially with respectto emergency care." However, he says he wouldn't want to see familypresence become expected. "I've had many families who really didn't want tosee their loved one badly traumatized, and their wishes need to berespected."

Meyers responds, "We offered visitation as an option, and we trained ourfacilitators to be supportive of family members who declined."

Vital Information:

  • Family members who are present during CPR or some other emergency procedureon a loved one report the experience to be positive and helpful, even if thepatient dies.
  • Most health care providers agree that the experience helps the familyunderstand the situation and realize the health care team has done itsbest.
  • One observer notes that having family members present could make them feelmore included in what is going on, and may deter potential malpracticeclaims.