Nursing Study Confirms that Regular Updates Are Good Medicine for Family Members During a Relative's Surgery

May 8, 2008 — When a loved one is having surgery, the hours of waiting for news can be agonizing for family members. A University of Virginia Medical Center nursing research group has found that during this anxious time, a simple one-minute phone call can make a difference in decreasing anxiety for family members and increasing family and patient satisfaction.

Research mentor Eric Blum, a nurse, explained that the idea for his research came from his own stressful surgery experience in California. "I had surgery many years ago, and my family was told that it would be a one-hour surgery," he said. "Lo and behold, five hours later, no one had contacted them to let them know how surgery went. That was when we decided this would be a good research project."
Blum's team surveyed families before and after surgery to determine anxiety levels. During surgery, they called family members every two hours to pass along a brief message such as "The surgery is progressing as planned, and we will call you again in two hours." Sixty-five families received calls, while 54 families did not. Ninety-five percent of the families that received updates rated the surgery as a "good [operating room] experience," while 83.6 percent of the families that did not receive updates rated the OR experience favorably. Also, 94 percent of the families that received updates said the calls decreased their anxiety, and 79 percent of families who did not receive an update thought the calls would have decreased their anxiety.
"As an operating room nurse, we have very little contact with the family," Blum said. "However, they're giving up their most precious resource to us, and they can't be in the operating room to see how their family member is doing. So we're pleased that this research showed we could comfort the family just by making a quick phone call."
Few previous studies had been done with families of operating room patients to determine what they needed in terms of information, Blum said.
"U.Va. nurses rely on published research to determine if they are providing the best care for patients and their families," explained Suzi Burns, director of the U.Va. Health System Professional Nursing Staff Organization's Nursing Research Program.  "When studies are not available to help assure the best care, they conduct their own studies, the results of which get translated into practice. The findings from the OR study are consistent with other studies done in critical care units related to the needs of family members. Families and loved ones simply need information."