It is important that the family and friends of the ICU patients understand the importance of the rules in place and the appropriate behaviour when visiting a patient in ICU. The medical and surgical ICU (intensive care units) are where patients who are in the most fragile states are housed within a hospital.  Some facilities do not have a separate medical and surgical ICU but a general ICU instead. Visitors can seriously compromise the health of these patients by not adhering to the ICU rules.

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ICU Visiting Hours Are Shorter

Most hospitals in South Africa provide much shorter visiting hours for patients in ICU, and for good reason. These patients need minimal contact with people. The fact is that visitors are a threat to the patient’s health and the shorter the visit the better. While the hospital staff are well aware of the procedures to minimise the danger to the patient’s health that they may pose, most visitors are not medically inclined and do not understand how they could be compromising the patient’s health by visiting.

Therefore ICU visits at most South African private hospitals are limited to the afternoons/evenings so that the patient can rest most of the day. It is usually one hour long for each session (afternoon and evening) although some hospitals only allow shorter visits of 45 minutes. It is not uncommon for visitors to try to sneak in a few extra minutes and ignore the requests of hospital staff to leave the ICU. Unfortunately, the visitors of the patient are only harming the patient more than helping.

ICU Behaviour And Rules

Keep Noise To A Minimum

Many visitors look at a trip to the hospital to see a patient as a social outing. It is not. Visitors should try to maintain silence especially in wards like the ICU. Talking and laughing loudly, screaming or arguing is strictly forbidden as it can upset the patient who is already in a very delicate state. Even noise outside of the ICU should kept at a minimum so as not to startle or upset ICU patients. Be considerate for all ICU patients and not only your loved one.

Do Not Visit If You Are Sick

Although the ventilation within an ICU is maintained to ensure that microbes in the air are rapidly removed and destroyed, visitors should take the necessary measures to prevent infecting a patient. Remember that ICU patients are debilitated and often their immune systems are weak and unable to protect them adequately. A simple infection can prove deadly to an ICU patient. For this reason, any visitor who is unwell even with a mild sore throat or slight cold should NOT enter the ICU.

Minimise Touching And Hugging

Most ICUs require that visitors use the disinfectant handwash before entering the unit. Nevertheless visitors should try not to touch the patient. While touch is often said to be therapeutic, it can be deadly for an ICU patient. Remember that visitors are teeming with microbes that is on their skin, in their mouth, nose, on their hair and clothes. Disinfecting the hands does not mean that a person is microbe-free. Rather stand a few steps away from the bed and communicate with the patient verbally. The ventilation system within the ICU will ensure that airborne microbes are quickly removed.

Fewer Visitors Better For Patients

The rule in most ICU’s is that only two visitors are allowed in with the patient at any time. However, visitors try their best to find ways around this. Sneaking in an extra visitor, hiding away from hospital staff or even harassing the staff to let more people in compromises the ICU patient’s health. It is a selfish need to see a person who is unwell, needs minimal contact with the outside world and requires as much rest as possible.

Even though two visitors are allowed in at a time, the family and friends of an ICU patient should be considerate and not come with a huge group only to rotate two visitors at a time. Remember that ICU visiting time is only for the immediate family – spouses, parents or children (over 12 years) of the patient. Aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and friends should be considerate and not visit an ICU patient. Rather wait till the patient is transferred to a general ward and then visit.

No Children Under 12 Years

There is a good reason for this rule being in place. Contrary to popular belief, it is not entirely that a child under 12 years of age is at risk by entering the ICU. Rather children in this age group pose a much greater risk to ICU patients than adults. Children have very close contact with other children in school and at day care. They also do not have the same concept of good hygiene as older children and adults. Therefore they are more likely to transmit an infection and are banned from most ICUs.

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