Should Hospitals Be Open for Visitors 24/7?

If you've ever been a patient in hospital, you know how good it is to get visitors.  Now more hospitals are doing away with visiting hours and allowing friends and family to visit patients in hospital whenever they want....
If you've ever been a patient in hospital, you know how good it is to get visitors.  Now more hospitals are doing away with visiting hours and allowing friends and family to visit patients in hospital whenever they want.

In 2010, Kingston General Hospital became one of the first in Canada to end visiting hours in parts of he hospital.  Now the trend is catching on - especially in BC where Island Health region was among the first to end restrictive visiting hours this summer. Providence Health Care's sixteen acute long-term care and rehab hospitals in BC did likewise during the summer.  At least one hospital in Calgary did the same.  A survey by the American Hospital Association found that forty-two percent of hospitals in the US have restricted visiting hours. That's down from seventy-six percent just five years ago, so the trend is for hospitals to permit family and friends to visit patients whenever they wish.

The big reason for getting rid of visiting hours in favour of 'just plain visiting' is that patients want it.  When you're admitted to hospital, you're ill and you're probably apprehensive if not frightened about what's going on.  Patients want the reassuring presence of a friend or loved one.  Forward-thinking hospitals like Kingston General say getting rid of visiting hours fits in with their effort to put patients first instead of doctors and nurses.  I would say the only people who ever benefited from restricted visiting hours were health professionals.  

A 2011 report by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses found that allowing unlimited visiting hours improves patient and family satisfaction.  It means that patients receive more emotional support, which improves the patients' emotional health and in turn their physical well-being.  Having family members present more often means families are able to participate in a loved one's care more fully and can help plan for the care the patient needs when they get out of hospital.  Patients who receive lots of visitors are less likely to fall in hospital. They are also more likely to retain information given them by health care providers while in hospital.

On the contrary side, there are lots of anecdotal complaints about visitors from front line health care workers.  People who work in small hospitals say visitors take up too much space. Some critics say visitors are distracting because they ask too many questions and monopolize the health care worker's time.  In the ICU, I've heard nurse and doctors say that when lives are on the line, visitors are distracting especially when they have a lot to do to stabilize the patients and little time to do it.  Some think visitors keep patients from getting enough sleep. The fear is often raised that visitors bring superbugs and other infections to vulnerable patients with weak immune systems.  

In the past,  ICU workers  tended to be the most resistant to relaxed visiting hours.  But the ones that have given it a try adapted quickly and even grew to like it because they could see their patients doing better.  Even the hospitals that don't want full 24/7 visiting hours are increasing the number of hours families can visit and will make exceptions to rules to allow family with odd working hours to come at a prearranged time.  All of this is about making patients and their families the customer of health care - not the people looking after them.


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