UNMC study looks to integrate family members into ICU treatment

June 27, 2018, 2:08 a.m. ·

A University of Nebraska Medical Center study is looking at whether family caregivers can improve the experiences of those in the ICU.

The two-year, 50,000 dollar study funded by the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, will teach caregivers of patients on ventilators how to assess symptoms of discomfort, namely thirst or anxiety, and perform techniques to alleviate these symptoms.

Ventilators are often used if a patient has a disease or condition impairing lung function, however being hooked up to a ventilator is often uncomfortable, according to UNMC assistant professor and principle investigator of the study Dr. Breanna Hetland.

“The problem with giving sedatives is patients can become dependent and the rate of delirium increases, causing confusion,” Hetland said in a UNMC news release. “The guidelines tell us to use less drugs, but that’s really hard when you’re a nurse taking care of a patient who’s having discomfort.”

Hetland said the study will allow caregivers to ease this discomfort, while lessening the demand on critical care nurses.

“We’re not talking about giving medications or doing nurse-specific tasks,” Hetland said.

The model will be taught by critical care nurses through internet-based resources installed on tablets provided by Nebraska Medicine.

Hetland added patients are not the only ones who experience some negative after-effects after a visit to the ICU.

“Caregivers actually have significant health issues after an ICU experience with a patient so we think involving them in care actively we will be able to mitigate some of those negative after-effects of the ICU,” she said in a UNMC press release.

The team composing the study is made up of UNMC and Nebraska Medicine faculty, staff and students including two Nebraska Medicine ICU nurses and two UNMC nursing students.

The study will use 60 family caregivers – with half providing routine care and support to patients and the other half providing symptom assessment and management to their patients.

The study is expected to recruit participants in December and will launch in the intensive care unit in the C.L. Werner Cancer Hospital of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha.

“This project will help us further define the scope, extent and nature of patient and family engagement in the ICU,” Hetland said. “…The earlier we engage caregivers in getting them involved and making them less intimidated by what they’re seeing, the more success they’re going to have when they go home.”

Editor's Note: The story includes two corrections from the original published version related to the tablets being used and a start date for recruiting participants.