Let Them In: Family Presence during Intensive Care Unit Procedures

Families have for decades advocated for full access to intensive care units (ICUs) and meaningful partnership with clinicians, resulting in gradual improvements in family access and collaboration with ICU clinicians.

Despite such advances, family members in adult ICUs are still commonly asked to leave the patient’s room during invasive bedside procedures, regardless of whether the patient would prefer family to be present. Physicians may be resistant to having family members at the bedside due to concerns about trainee education, medicolegal implications, possible effects on the technical quality of procedures due to distractions, and procedural sterility.

Limited evidence from parallel settings does not support these concerns. Family presence during ICU procedures, when the patient and family member both desire it, fulfills the mandates of patient-centered care. We anticipate that such inclusion will increase family engagement, improve patient and family satisfaction, and may, based on studies of open visitation, pediatric ICU experience, and family presence during cardiopulmonary resuscitation, decrease psychological distress in patients and family members.

We believe these goals can be achieved without compromising the quality of patient care, increasing provider burden significantly, or increasing risks of litigation.

In this paper, we weigh current evidence, consider historical objections to family presence at ICU procedures, and report our clinical experience with the practice. An outline for implementing family procedural presence in the ICU is also presented.


In the latest AnnalsATS podcast, Dr. Alan Fein speaks with Drs. Sarah Beesley and Samuel Brown about the pros and cons of allowing families to have full access to ICU’s.

Listen to the podcast –  

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