The impact of a prolonged stay in the ICU on patients' fundamental care needs

J Clin Nurs. 2018 Jun;27(11-12):2300-2310. doi: 10.1111/jocn.14184. Epub 2018 Jan 11.


Aims and objectives: To explore patients', families' and health professionals' experiences of a long-stay patient in an intensive care unit.

Background: The fast-paced technologically driven intensive care unit environment, designed for a short patient stay, supports the provision of complex physiologically focused care for those with life-threatening illnesses. Long-stay patients with pronounced fundamental care needs fall outside predicted patient pathways, and nurses can find caring for these patients challenging.

Design and methods: A longitudinal, qualitative, multicase study of six cases from four New Zealand units. Case participants were patients, family members, nurses and other health professionals. Data collection methods included observation, conversations, interviews and document review. Data were analysed using thematic analysis, vignette development and trajectory mapping.

Results: Challenges and successes of providing fundamental care for long-stay ICU patients are attributed to two interlinked factors. First, the biomedical model influences ICU nursing practices, resulting in prioritising tasks and technology for patient survival while simultaneously devaluing relational and comfort work. Fundamental psychosocial needs such as family presence, comfort, relationships and communication may be unmet. Second, the unit environment and culture have a significant impact on long-stay patients' ICU experiences and form physical and psychological barriers to families being present and involved. Some nurses negotiated these challenges to provide fundamental, patient- and family-centred care by adopting an approach of knowing the patient and these nurses reported satisfaction when seeing patients' positive responses.

Conclusion: The care environment and culture provide challenges to the provision of patient- and family-centred care for long-stay patients; however, when nurses prioritise knowing their patient these challenges can be overcome and patient and family distress reduced with the potential to improve patient outcomes.

Relevance to clinical practice: Recognition that patients have fundamental care needs irrespective of the setting where they receive care. Intensive care environments and cultures create challenges for nurses when there is such a heavy burden of physiological needs to be met and technological tasks to be undertaken, with a focus on acuity; however, improving provision fundamental care can result in positive patient outcomes.

Keywords: chronically critically ill; fundamental care; intensive care; intensive care nursing; prolonged mechanical ventilation; qualitative case study.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease / nursing*
  • Critical Care / psychology*
  • Critical Care Nursing
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Personnel / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Needs Assessment*
  • New Zealand
  • Nurse-Patient Relations*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Qualitative Research