Exploring Patients' Perceptions on ICU Diaries: A Systematic Review and Qualitative Data Synthesis

Crit Care Med. 2021 Jul 1;49(7):e707-e718. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000005019.


Objectives: This study aims to summarize the current qualitative evidence on patients' experiences of reading the ICU diaries.

Data sources: We searched the online databases PubMed, Ovid, EMBASE, and EBSCO host from inception to July 2020.

Study selection: All studies that presented any qualitative findings regarding patients' experiences of reading an ICU diary were included.

Data extraction: Study design, location, publication year, data collection method, and mode, all qualitative themes identified and reported, and participant quotations, when appropriate. We also extracted data regarding the diary structure, when available. A thematic synthesis approach was used to analyze and synthesize qualitative data.

Data synthesis: Seventeen studies were analyzed. Most patients reported positive experiences with the ICU diary, such as understanding what they survived during critical illness, better understanding the process of recovery, gaining coherence of nightmares and delusional memories, realizing the importance of the presence of family and loved ones during ICU stay, and humanizing healthcare professionals that helped them survive critical illness. Patients also reported which components of the diary were important for their recovery, such as the presence of photographs and reading the diary with a healthcare professional, allowing the improvement of the concept of the ICU diary.

Conclusion: This qualitative synthesis shows that patients recommend having an ICU diary, enlightening benefits such as better coping with the slow recovery from critical illness, strengthening family ties, and humanizing the ICU staff. It also identifies characteristics of the diary valued by the patients, in order to standardize the ICU diary according to their perspectives, and allowing future comparability between randomized controlled trials.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Critical Care / psychology*
  • Critical Illness / psychology*
  • Critical Illness / therapy
  • Diaries as Topic*
  • Family
  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders / therapy*
  • Nurses
  • Perception*
  • Photography
  • Physicians
  • Qualitative Research