Years ago, it was common practice never to allow family members into patient rooms during certain tasks. Most people can remember old black-and-white shows depicting men with cigars pacing the waiting room floor while their wives gave birth. For years, this was also the case when it came to resuscitation efforts. Family members were escorted to waiting rooms during codes in an effort to keep the family calm. Most health care personnel feared that family members would get in the way in the patient room, would hamper life-saving efforts or would be so emotional that they would turn into patients themselves.
However, in recent years, many hospitals have been allowing at least some close family members into patient rooms in the ICU or into trauma rooms in the ER during codes. The response has been mostly favorable to these policy changes although it has been difficult for some health care personnel to get used to this change. As with any policy change, this decision has both its positive and its negative sides.
In some ways, family presence can be especially helpful for the patient. Because hearing is often the last sense to disappear, many believe that patients being coded can still hear their loved ones’ voices, which can be quite comforting. Plus, being in the room can also be comforting to family members who want to say goodbye to a loved one.
However, there are several downsides to this option. Some family members are just not physically or emotionally ready to see the aggressive measures adopted during a lengthy code. Plus, some health care personnel worry that they could be held legally responsible for things that family members believe they see during a code. This can hamper efforts and may stop doctors and nurses from pursuing more aggressive procedures that could help the patient.
Research can be found to support both the idea of allowing family into the room during resuscitation as well as barring family presence in the emergency department or intensive care unit during a code. Because very few if any patients are asked about their wishes in this matter prior to arrest, it often comes down to hospital policy as well as the preferences of medical personnel and family members in the matter. Of course, health care personnel must be cognizant of the high possibility that private information regarding the patient will be released during the code. Therefore, those working in health care organizations that do allow family presence during resuscitations should strictly observe patient confidentiality during the code.
As far as personal preference goes, many doctors and nurses are at first hesitant to allow family into the trauma room or ICU during a code. It can feel awkward to have life-saving measures on display for the family to see, and it could be scarring to certain family members. Communication and empathy are vital even though this is a busy and stressful situation. However, health care personnel should also remember that, although painful, it can be equally helpful and healing for family members to be able to see how much was done to save or attempt to save the loved one’s life. Whether or not death is the outcome, acceptance of the situation is much easier for those who know what happened behind the scenes.