• instrument development;
  • family needs;
  • critical illness;
  • emergency;
  • nursing

Background. Families who accompany critically ill relatives in emergency departments (EDs) are an integral part of the care unit. However, there are few empirical data on their needs during this phase of care. In order to guide quality care, general and specific needs of families accompanying these critically ill relatives should be systematically examined.

Aim. The aim of this pilot project was to test the tool, methods and analysis plan for a study to examine the perceived needs of family members accompanying critically ill patients in EDs and their perceptions of ED staff's ability to meet these needs.

Method. Over a 6-week period in 1996, 84 relatives who met the inclusion criteria were recruited to the study. A postal questionnaire, to uncover the needs of family members, was pilot tested. The questionnaire consisted of 40 need statements reflecting five major themes: meaning, proximity, communication, comfort and support. Of the 84 relatives selected for the study, 73% returned completed questionnaires.

Results. The findings of this pilot study suggest that the questionnaire is a valid and reliable tool for researchers wishing to examine and rank the needs of family members who accompany critically ill people in EDs. In addition, the analysis plan was found to be appropriate.

Conclusions. This pilot study provides both a method and a tool for further research into family needs. Examination of the pilot data supported the reliability and validity of the tool and produced findings that challenge nurses to move beyond traditional practice that has excluded families from being an integral part of caring for critically ill patients in EDs.