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J Clin Nurs. 2005 Apr;14(4):501-9.

The needs and experiences of family members of adult patients in an intensive care unit: a review of the literature.

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Nursing Science, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium.



Insight into the needs and experiences of family members is an initial but necessary step in providing appropriate care for both family members and the patient. This literature review aims to structure the available scientific knowledge on needs and experiences of family members of intensive care unit patients with particular extension to coma patients. Qualitative as well as quantitative studies are discussed.


Literature review.


Needs are divided into four categories: cognitive, emotional, social and practical needs. The need for accurate and comprehensible information that leaves room for hope is universal. Family members want to speak to a doctor every day about the condition of and the prognosis for the patient, and want a nurse to explain to them about the care, the unit, the equipment and what they can do for the patient during visiting hours. Family members place great importance on being called at home if the condition of the patient changes. Emotional needs as hope, reassurance and being able to remain in the vicinity of the patient are crucial. Family members always give priority to the welfare of their relative. In their confused state, they often do not get around to paying attention to themselves. Caregivers underestimate all of the needs of family members and do not do enough to meet these needs.


Priority needs should be central in the nurses' approach of family members. The initiative for meeting the needs must be with the caregivers. Future, focused and well-designed qualitative research over a longer period of time could clarify the process that family members go through and explain the results of quantitative studies.

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