OBJECTIVE: To understand the experiences and perceived benefits of virtual visiting from the perspectives of intensive care unit (ICU)-experienced clinicians and non-ICU-experienced family liaison team members.

DESIGN: Qualitative descriptive study.

SETTING: Adult intensive care setting across 14 hospitals within the UK National Health Service.

PARTICIPANTS: ICU-experienced clinicians and non-ICU-experienced family liaison team members deployed during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

METHODS: Semistructured telephone/video interviews were conducted with ICU clinicians. Analytical themes were developed inductively following a standard thematic approach, using 'family-centred care' and 'sensemaking' as sensitising concepts.

RESULTS: We completed 36 interviews, with 17 ICU-experienced clinicians and 19 non-ICU-experienced family liaison team members. In the context of inperson visiting restrictions, virtual visiting offered an alternative conduit to (1) restoring the family unit, (2) facilitating family involvement, and (3) enabling sensemaking for the family. Virtual visits with multiple family members concurrently and with those living in distant geographical locations restored a sense of family unit. Family involvement in rehabilitation, communication and orientation activities, as well as presence at the end of life, highlighted how virtual visiting could contribute to family-centred care. Virtual visits were emotionally challenging for many family members, but also cathartic in helping make sense of their own emotions and experience by visualising their relatives in the ICU. Being able to see and interact with loved ones and their immediate care providers afforded important cues to enable family sensemaking of the ICU experience.

CONCLUSIONS: In this UK qualitative study of clinicians using virtual ICU visiting, in the absence of inperson visiting, virtual visiting was perceived positively as an alternative that promoted family-centred care through virtual presence. We anticipate the perceived benefits of virtual visiting may extend to non-pandemic conditions through improved equity and timeliness of family access to the ICU by offering an alternative option alongside inperson visiting.


This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/.

Cite as

Xyrichis, A., Pattison, N., Ramsay, P., Saha, S., Cook, A., Metaxa, V., Meyer, J. & Rose, L. 2022, 'Virtual visiting in intensive care during the COVID-19 pandemic: a qualitative descriptive study with ICU clinicians and non-ICU family team liaison members', BMJ Open, 12(4), article no: e055679. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2021-055679

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Last updated: 16 June 2022
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