"Challenging families": the roles of design and culture in nurse-family interactions in a high acuity intensive care unit
Rippin, Allyn Sager
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The trend towards patient-and family-centered care (PFCC) invites families of critically ill patients to participate more fully in the care and recovery of their loved ones through partnerships with the medical team and personalized care that respects the values, beliefs and experiences of the individual. In response to the growing needs of families, healthcare institutions are re-designing the way patient and family care is delivered in terms of policy, culture and the physical environment. Despite the many benefits that come with closer collaboration, nurses report that "challenging" families are a key source of workplace stress. This exploratory case study documents some of these challenges as perceived by staff nurses at Emory University Hospital's Neuro ICU while examining the role the built environment plays in shaping such perceptions. Through a series of ethnographic interviews and observational methodologies, the study identifies some of the challenges and benefits that come with balancing patient and family needs. Nurse strategies developed to reassert spatial and temporal control over work environments are also identified. The second phase of research compares communication patterns generated from two different ICUs to explore the link between unit design and the frequency and quality of nurse-family interactions. Findings suggest that space plays a role in moderating the degree of nurse exposure to the often unstructured and unpredictable aspects of family interactions. These encounters, set within a highly charged critical care setting, may contribute to these perceived challenges. Healthcare stands at an important moment of transition in which attitudes, behaviors and expectations are changing. Together these results reinforce the need for adequate tools, training and education to further support nurses in the transition to this new care culture.