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The Experiences of Family Members of Ventilated COVID-19 Patients in the Intensive Care Unit: A Qualitative Study

Background: Visitor restrictions caused challenges for family members when their loved ones had coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and were ventilated. Limited studies have reported on family members' experiences and support needs. Aim: To explore the experiences and support needs of family members of ventilated COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU). Design: Exploratory, qualitative design, using in-depth individual telephone interviews, and analyzed using thematic analysis. Setting/Participants: Ten family members of adult COVID-19 patients in the ICU. Result: Seven key themes represented family members' experiences: (a) reactions to the COVID-19 diagnosis, (b) COVID-19 as a destabilizing force on the family unit, (c) COVID-19's effects on bereavement outcomes, (d) desperately seeking information, (e) family member needs, (f) conflicting feelings about video calls, and (g) appreciation of care. Family members' feelings about the patient's diagnosis and how the virus was contracted exacerbated their stress and anxiety. They struggled to feel informed about care that they could not witness and had difficulty understanding information. Family members reported that video calls were unhelpful. While these experiences made them question the quality of care, they expressed their appreciation of the frontline healthcare providers taking care of their loved ones. Conclusion: The stress and uncertainty of family members of critically ill patients with COVID-19 were influenced by their inability to feel connected to the patient and informed about care. Healthcare providers should assess each individual family's burden and preferences, and this should include establishing structured, timely, and consistent communication regarding patient care during the pandemic including early referral to palliative care.

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American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine
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