Family Engagement

Engaging Visitors as Care Partners

Visitation policies have been subject to tremendous change and debate during the pandemic. New guidelines from the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care are designed to help organizations develop successful visitation policies for various care settings.

As the Coalition indicates in the guidelines’ title – More than a Visitor: Balancing safety, connection and well-being at places of care in a time of COVID – visitors can be important participants in patient care and crucial to the patient’s well-being. The guidelines and other resources available on the Coalition’s website demonstrate that the topic of visitation at this moment raises questions to which there are no simple answers — setting the right policy and practice truly is a balancing act.

During a webinar the Coalition held in early October, clinicians from a variety of organizations in Massachusetts reflected on what they had learned during the COVID “surge” (March, April and early May in Massachusetts) when most had severely restricted in-person visitation. At that time, a very cautious attitude was appropriate due to PPE shortages and evolving knowledge of the new virus, but everyone reported having learned the value and necessity of flexibility from that experience.

The bottom line is to recognize that many visitors are important as care and life partners and that decisions about visitation often must be made on a case-by-case basis.

The guidelines are presented in three sections, addressing 1) overarching principles, 2) specifics according to context or setting and 3) the importance of communicating effectively about requirements and restrictions.

These are guidelines, not firm and fast rules, designed to help organizations determine the best approach, understand available options and invite participation from a wide range of interested parties.

The webpage that offers an introduction and link for downloading the guidelines also presents videos of Coalition members sharing stories and advice from their experiences with visitation policies during the pandemic.


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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