The ICU provides care to those who are critically ill, and visiting can be a bit different than other areas in hospital.

Visitors to the intensive care unit are usually limited to immediate family or significant others. Visiting hours are flexible. Speak to a nurse about when best to visit.

What should I know about visiting my loved one in ICU?

Infection control and safety

Clean your hands before and after visiting your family member. This is essential to prevent the spread of infection. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are available throughout the hospital. 

Do not visit if you are sick. Patients in the intensive care unit are very ill and are more sensitive to outside illnesses. Their condition could worsen if they are in contact with germs.

Follow safety precautions, such as wearing gloves, gowns or masks if your loved one is in isolation due to their condition.

Visiting with children

Talk to your nurse if you want to bring a child into ICU. Children must be able to follow all infection control measures, especially hand washing, and be under direct adult supervision at all times. 

Family space

Private family space may be available by request. Talk to your nurse if you need access to a private space.

Language services

Interpreters and translation services are available. Visit our Language Interpreter Services section for more information.

Photos

To protect the privacy of other patients and families, speak to the nurse before taking any personal photos.

Family spokesperson

Designate a family spokesperson. The family will be asked to choose a spokesperson and to decide who may visit. The spokesperson will:

  • Be the main person to communicate with the health care team about the patient’s condition and the plan of care.
  • Coordinate visiting permission and information with extended family and friends.
  • The spokesperson may or may not be the same person as the substitute decision maker.

Substitute decision maker

A substitute decision maker may be needed to make necessary legal decisions on behalf of the patient. This may or may not be the same person as the spokesperson. The health care team will keep both of these individuals, and any other representative the family identifies, fully informed of conditions and plans for treatment.

The substitute decision maker will:

  • Inform the health care team if the patient has legally documented wishes about being put on life support
  • Inform the health care team about the patient’s thoughts or wishes about being put on life support when no legal documentation exists
  • Make decisions based on the patient’s best interests when the substitute decision maker has no knowledge of the patient’s wishes regarding life support

If the patient signed a legal representation agreement naming a decision maker, this person will be required to sign consents on behalf of the patient. If the patient hasn’t identified a substitute decision maker, the first person who qualifies, is willing and is available (in the following order) will be assigned the role: spouse, child, parent, sibling, anyone related by birth or adoption.

Get support

Having a loved one in ICU can be a difficult time.

Here are ways to help you cope while visiting someone who has a prolonged critical illness.