Interaction between adult patients’ family members and nursing staff on a hospital ward


Päivi Åstedt-Kurki, Department of Nursing Science, University of Tampere, FIN-33014, University of Tampere, Finland E-mail:


Interaction between adult patients’ family members and nursing staff on a hospital ward

The purpose of this study was to generate knowledge of the interaction between an adult patient’s family members and nursing staff from the staff’s perspective.

Data were collected from nursing staff (n=155) working on the wards and out-patient departments for pulmonary, rheumatic, neurological and gastroenterological diseases at a university hospital by using a new questionnaire based on earlier research and the literature. The questions explored the staff’s views of interaction with the adult patient’s family members. In this study, interaction is seen as an umbrella concept which encompasses giving information to relatives, discussion, contacts between staff and significant others and working together. The instrument included questions about personal and telephone discussions, the provision of written instructions and factors facilitating and complicating interaction. The response rate was 55%. The data were analysed using SPSS software and examined using frequency and percentage distributions and cross-tabulation. The open-ended questions were analysed using qualitative content analysis by reducing, grouping and abstracting the data inductively.

Discussions with relatives while they visited the patient in hospital were the commonest form of interaction. The majority of respondents perceived the interaction with the patient and knowing his or her family members as important. Less than one-fourth of the respondents started discussion with family members, while the majority expected family members to initiate interaction. The majority of respondents perceived the patient’s presence in discussion as important, but sometimes they thought it was necessary to discuss with family members without the patient. The staff discussed with family members mainly in the ward office or in patient rooms, which were, however, not perceived as peaceful. Discussions primarily pertained to the patient’s condition, discharge from hospital and planning of continued treatment.

The majority of respondents reported that the opportunity for discussion offered by staff, the patient’s positive attitude towards discussion with the family and family members’ own interest facilitated interaction. The staff’s haste and shift-work, family members’ shyness of approaching the staff and the absence of a peaceful place for discussion serve to complicate interaction.

Family members are primarily seen as informants and recipients of information. The staff’s ability to recognize the importance of family members to successful patient care is relatively adequate. However, insufficient attention is paid to family members and their need for support.