• Intensive Care Units (ICU)

  • Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU)

A young surgeon washing their hands to prepare for surgery

Keeping patients & visitors healthy in the ICU

Ensuring the safety and health of patients and visitors in our hospitals is a top priority. Learn more about special precautions and other safety measures in the Intensive Care Unit.

Patient safety in the ICU

Visiting the ICU

People are encouraged to visit the ICU to visit friends and family. Patients require considerable care during this critical time, so plan to be flexible with your visits.

Preparing for your visit

  • Visitors at the bedside are limited to two people from the immediate family (spouse, significant other, parents, siblings, patient's children or support person).
  • Shorter and more frequent visits are encouraged for the patient's well-being.
  • Please DO NOT enter the unit without authorization, as you may compromise the care of your friend, family member or other patients.
  • Check with the hospital for information on how to request access to the ICU and visiting hours.
  • Please leave the unit when asked, and keep clear of any double doors as care teams use these exits to move patients.

At the bedside

The ICU can be a difficult place to visit. There are a variety of sounds, equipment, and technology. There may be rules to follow to protect the patient, staff, and visitors. However, your visit is essential and can be meaningful for you and your loved one. Ask questions, and we are happy to explain the machines or procedures.

Keep your well-being in mind while caring for your loved one. To manage your stress during your visit, read our tips to take care of yourself.

If your loved one needs a breathing machine, they will not be able to talk. You can still speak to them about daily events and family activities and keep them up to date on social issues. Ask questions that require a yes or no response, and help them point to letters of the alphabet or assist with writing and communication boards.

Holding a hand or gentle touch can mean a great deal. Read a paper or a story to your loved one, or bring in your loved one’s favourite music with headphones to help with comfort, relaxation, and entertainment.

If your loved one is unconscious, they may still be able to hear and feel. The nurse will let you know if your loved one’s condition requires little or no stimulation.

How do I get updates on the status of my loved one?

Our goal is to keep you and your family informed to the best of our ability. Our practice is to communicate with one family-identified spokesperson (see the blue tab below for more info). 

Our physicians do their best to provide updates and meet with you regularly when there is an extended stay. Please be aware that due to the many active medical issues on our unit they are not always able to respond at pre-determined times.

Help us get to know your family member

It can be frustrating when patients have breathing tubes and are unable to speak for themselves. Fill out the ‘All About Me’ poster at the bedside. There are communication tools available. Remind us to use them!

Leaving the ICU

When the patient is well enough they will be transferred to a special care unit, step-down unit or directly to a ward. Some of the people who cared for your family member in the ICU (e.g. surgeon, heart or lung doctor) will also care for them in the ward.  

Each transfer is unique and may involve changes in care and visitation times. These changes can be stressful and we encourage taking a tour and getting familiar with the new unit if possible. 

What to expect

  • The level of high-tech care will decrease.
  • The number of patients under one nurse's care will increase.
  • Family members may become more involved in daily care.
  • The patient may share a room with others and visiting may be less restricted.
  • Care will be more focused on discharge from the hospital.  

What to expect from your loved one

Your loved one may experience temporary side effects of critical illness including:

  • Fatigue
  • Altered mood and sleep patterns
  • Confusion and reduced awareness
  • Memory loss
  • Change in appearance

    More on this topic

    Why is my loved one at the ICU?

    Equipment at the ICU

    Patient safety in the ICU

    Isolation precautions

    Support when a loved one dies

    Well-being tips for caregivers at the hospital

    Research in the Vancouver General Hospital ICU