Challenges faced by families of critically ill patients during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic

Patient Educ Couns. 2022 Feb;105(2):297-303. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2021.08.029. Epub 2021 Aug 27.


Objective: To understand how surrogates of critically ill patients adjusted to challenges that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: Participants (N = 62) were surrogates of critically ill adults with COVID-19 in the ICU at an urban, academic medical center from March to June 2020. Participants were recruited using convenience sampling and took part in one-time qualitative individual interviews via telephone. Qualitative data were analyzed using thematic content analysis.

Results: Qualitative analyses yielded four types of challenges: Communication with the medical team, communication among family members, understanding and tracking medical information, and distress related to visitor restrictions. To adjust to challenges related to communication, participants developed routines for receiving updates from the medical team and providing updates to other family members. To adjust to the challenge related to comprehension, participants sought information from external sources such as family members in healthcare fields. To adjust to the challenge related to visitation, participants found some comfort in video calls with the patient.

Conclusions: Surrogates of critically ill patients with COVID-19 faced multiple types of challenges yet adjusted to those challenges.

Practical implications: Future research should focus on ways to support the wellbeing of surrogates during times of restricted hospital visitation. Clinical trial registered at (NCT03969810).

Keywords: COVID-19; Family engagement; Human centered design; Shared decision making.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19*
  • Critical Illness
  • Family
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2

Associated data