The effectiveness of interventions to meet family needs of critically ill patients in an adult intensive care unit: a systematic review update

Kate Kynoch, Anne Chang, Fiona Coyer, Annie McArdle
JBI Database of Systematic Reviews and Implementation Reports 2016, 14 (3): 181-234

BACKGROUND: Attending to the needs of family members of critically ill patients is an important and necessary step in providing appropriate holistic care for both the patient and the family. Family interaction can significantly impact on the experience of critical illness, notwithstanding the challenge of meeting families' needs for many clinicians in the intensive care unit (ICU). Family needs have been extensively researched; however, a previous Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) systematic review was the first published systematic review recommending effective interventions for addressing family needs of critically ill patients in an acute intensive care setting. Since its publication in 2011, additional research findings have been published and it was deemed appropriate to update the original systematic review.

OBJECTIVES: This systematic review aims to establish recent best practice in addressing the needs of family members with a relative or loved one admitted to an adult critical care unit.

INCLUSION CRITERIA TYPES OF PARTICIPANTS: Studies that included family members (including children) of adult patients in an ICU were considered for inclusion in this review. Patients with any clinical condition, length of stay or outcome were included.

TYPES OF INTERVENTION(S): This review considered interventions that addressed the five previously identified categories of family needs: support - support groups, training in coping strategies and journal or diary writing; assurance - face-to-face meetings and participation in ward rounds; proximity - changes to visitation policies; information - staff and/or family education, handouts and brochures and the use of technology (e.g. SMS messages); and comfort - changes to the ICU physical environment.

TYPES OF STUDIES: This review considered any randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that evaluated the effectiveness of interventions in addressing family needs of critically ill patients in an adult ICU. In the absence of RCTs, other research designs such as quasi-experimental, as well as pre- and post-studies were considered for inclusion in the narrative summary to enable the identification of current approaches and possible future strategies for addressing family needs of critically ill patients.

TYPES OF OUTCOMES: This review considered studies that evaluated outcomes with a validated tool that measured information comprehension, coping mechanisms, anxiety, depression, stress and satisfaction.

SEARCH STRATEGY: An extensive search of the major databases was conducted. Databases searched included PubMed, CINAHL, psycINFO, Health source, Web of Science, EMBASE, the Cochrane Library and Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects. The original search of this review included published and unpublished studies and articles in English from 1980 to 2010. The updated search identified articles for inclusion from 2010 to 2014.

METHODOLOGICAL QUALITY: Quantitative articles selected for retrieval were assessed by two independent reviewers for methodological validity prior to inclusion in the review. Any disagreements that arose between the reviewers were resolved through discussion, or with a third reviewer.

DATA EXTRACTION: Data was extracted from the articles included in this review using standardized data extraction tools from the JBI Meta Analysis of Statistics Assessment and Review Instrument package.

DATA SYNTHESIS: The studies included in this review were not suitable for meta-analysis and therefore the results are presented as a narrative summary.

RESULTS: Originally, 14 studies and one dissertation met the inclusion criteria and were included in the review. Of these, 12 were quasi-experimental studies and three were prospective randomized trials. In this current update, 14 new articles were identified for inclusion - one RCT, 10 quasi-experimental studies and three observational studies. The settings were in ICUs in Sweden, USA, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The evidence identified from all studies in the review includes the use of support groups for family members of patients admitted to an ICU, structured communication and/or education programs for family members, the use of leaflets or brochures to meet family information needs, use of a diary, changes in the physical environment and open or more flexible visiting hours.

CONCLUSIONS: This current update of the original review makes several reiterative and new recommendations for clinical practice to address family needs of patients admitted to a critical care unit; however, the need for significant further research in this area is again highlighted. Future intervention studies focusing on family needs could include the use of technology such as DVDs (Digital Versatile Discs) and SMS (Short Message Service) for informing families and interventions specifically designed to improve family comfort.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: Communication interventions help promote family involvement in their loved one's care and facilitate their decision-making capacity, as well as improving clinician and family interaction, family comprehension of their loved one's condition and also reduce the development of post-traumatic stress-related symptoms (Grade A). Family satisfaction may be increased with the provision of comfortable physical environments with noise reduction measures (Grade B).

IMPLICATIONS FOR RESEARCH: More rigorous high-quality studies investigating interventions to meet the needs of family with a relative in ICU are needed. The majority of included studies in this updated review focused on family satisfaction wherein more robust data on family needs would better inform health professionals in their practice.

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