24-hour intensive care: an observational study of an environment and events

Intensive Crit Care Nurs. 2010 Oct;26(5):246-53. doi: 10.1016/j.iccn.2010.06.003. Epub 2010 Jul 24.


Background: In intensive care, patients are exposed to a strange and sometimes hostile environment, which can lead to post-traumatic psychological problems. The aim of this study was to describe an intensive care environment from a patient point of view and the events and social contacts during a patient's day.

Methods: The study had an observational qualitative design. The data were generated by recording on DVD four adult intensive care patients in an intensive care unit over one day (n=96 hours). The DVD recording of two patients also included daylight (lx) and decibel (db) measurement. The material was analysed by inductive and deductive content analysis.

Results: An intensive care patient environment is made up of physical, social and symbolic environments. The hospital, ward and patient room constitute an environment that is indirectly connected to the patient. The patient bed and all that is included in it are directly connected to the ICU patient's physical environment. The social environment includes the people who are near the patient and in direct or indirect contact with them. ICU norms, regulations, values, expectations and knowledge make up the symbolic environment. Taken together, these factors constitute an intensive care unit's way of action. The symbolic environment is connected to the social environment through people and the way of action.

Conclusion: The patient is connected to the ICUs environment, but is usually not able to influence it. It is important to eliminate things that prevent recovery and to promote feeling safe. Besides the physical environment, things that prevent recovery and increase a feeling of being safe can be found in both the social and the symbolic environment. We also need to learn more about ICU patients' subjective experiences in order to be able to describe the psychological environment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Lighting
  • Noise
  • Patients / psychology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Environment
  • Social Values