Family Presence in Emergencies: The Benefits of Being There

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March 17, 2000 (Baltimore) -- Family members who were present when their loved ones underwent cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or other emergency procedures reported the experience as positive and helpful, even when the loved one 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 takes place," says Theresa Meyers, RN, lead author of the study, in an interview with WebMD. Meyers is director of the emergency department at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas.

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

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

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

Carl Soderstrom, MD, professor of surgery at the Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland, tells WebMD, "This is certainly a unique approach to patient care, and may make families feel more included in what's going on with 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 actually there when procedures take place." Soderstrom was not involved in the study.

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

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

Vital Information:

  • Family members who are present during CPR or some other emergency procedure on a loved one report the experience to be positive and helpful, even if the patient dies.
  • Most health care providers agree that the experience helps the family understand the situation and realize the health care team has done its best.
  • One observer notes that having family members present could make them feel more included in what is going on, and may deter potential malpractice claims.
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