Background. To contain severe acute respiratory syndrome, the Hong Kong Hospital Authority set a policy that stipulated there should be no visitors to hospital wards. A helpdesk service was established with the goal of providing immediate emotional and communication support to relatives while severe acute respiratory syndrome patients were isolated during the acute phase of the illness.
Aim. This study describes the results of a rapid assessment of the effectiveness of a helpdesk service designed to meet the immediate needs of relatives of severe acute respiratory syndrome patients in Hong Kong.
Method. Eighty-three respondents, representing about 46.3% of relatives (179), attending the helpdesk on the day of the study were recruited. Service evaluation data was collected using a self-administered questionnaire completed by respondents.
Results. Nearly 100% of respondents who used the service found the delivery service with on-site counselling useful for alleviating their anxiety. However, about half of these relatives complained of insufficient information regarding the patient's condition and progress. The majority of respondents were satisfied with the service. In describing the most important traits of the service providers, caring and enthusiasm were mentioned most frequently by respondents who stated that they were very satisfied with the service.
Conclusion. The results support the value of the service, and demonstrate that the service is effective in meeting relatives’ immediate needs. These needs include information, aid in fulfilling their role as caretaker for the patient (delivering prepared soup) and psychological support. The results suggest that facilitation of visitation of patients by relatives via video conferencing and education of the public on the nature and course of severe acute respiratory syndrome to reduce the social stigma of having a potentially life-threatening disease should be introduced in Hong Kong.
Relevance to clinical practice. The results highlight important attributes that helpers (nurses) should have in order to alleviate the suffering of severe acute respiratory syndrome patients and their relatives.