Physician viewpoint: The fading presence of family at the bedside

Daniela Lamas, MD, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, has noticed a big difference in her hospital and in patient care since the pandemic began: "an erosion of the family presence that we once embraced."

Dr. Lamas wrote about the shift in a New York Times op-ed June 14, which can be found in full here. Although her hospital has returned to normal in many ways — no more talk of canceling elective surgeries, the return of the cafeteria salad bar — she poses the question of whether this return to normal is as good as it gets, and whether the promises she made to herself about caring for patients post-pandemic will be realized. 

"In the ICU, we still have visitor restrictions. Families can arrive, two people at a time, at 11 in the morning and leave at 8 in the evening," Dr. Lamas wrote. "This means that they are rarely a part of rounds, or present at the bedside late into the night. Though these rules are intended to avoid the spread of the virus, I suspect they have lingered despite falling rates of [COVID-19] transmission because we have grown used to hospital life without visitors." 

She also notes that physicians who are now completing residency gained most of their experience "in a world without robust family presence," caring for patients who were intubated and under sedation, behind closed doors, donning masks and managing fear of virus transmission. 

"To think that a possible [COVID-19] exposure would not cause panic is itself a sign of great progress. But at the same time, we are so far from where we thought we might be by now," Dr. Lamas wrote. 

Read her op-ed in full here

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