Family and Friend Engagement

Communicating COVID-19 Changes to Family Presence Policies

Strict limitations on who may visit hospital patients and residents in long-term care facilities are among the most painful changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Although most people understand the need to prevent potential transmission of the virus, not being able to be present with loved ones who are sick or even at the end of life creates frustration and a unique sense of loss. This is difficult for everyone involved, including clinicians and staff members who must explain policies and care for patients without the added information and support friends and families can contribute.

The Institute for Patient and Family-Centered Care (IPFCC) offers guidance for organizations and providers responsible for communicating family presence policies to patients and their friends and family members  in a “Frequently Asked Questions” format. In the FAQ, IPFCC gives specific advice about how to approach these communications. For example, when describing changes to family presence policies, use positive, patient- and family-centered language:

Describe revisions to family presence policies in terms of “temporary changes” and “precautions to protect patients, families, and staff” rather than “restrictions” or “lock-downs.”

IPFCC also recommends including members of Patient and Family Advisory Councils in planning the communication strategy and providing training and support for staff members responsible for explaining the policies directly to patients, families and friends. IPFCC advises organizations to provide regular updates and to be prepared to reassess these policies as circumstances change.

The FAQ also covers “Maintaining Connections Between Patients and Their Loved Ones” and “Supporting Patients, Families, Clinicians, Staff, Learners, and Leaders During COVID-19.” It is available for download on the IPFCC website.


Susan Carr Susan Carr is a medical editor and writer specializing in patient safety and engagement. In addition to curating the EngagingPatients blog, she produces publications for the Betsy Lehman Center in Boston and the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine. Susan lives and works in Lunenburg, Massachusetts.

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