Background. Family members are a crucial part of the holistic approach to care in emergency departments. In particular, they are a group who are vulnerable, yet have been overlooked when considering care options.
Aim. The primary aim of this systematic review was to appraise research relevant to identifying and meeting the needs of family members who accompany a critically ill person into the Emergency Department (ED). The information was intended to inform future research into the care of these people.
Method. A quality assessment strategy was specifically developed to evaluate the various research designs used. The outcomes of the highest quality studies were used to develop evidence-based clinical practice guidelines to inform clinicians caring for family members who accompany a critically ill person into the ED.
Results. Recommendations for family care drawn from this review provide the foundation for more rigorous methodologies in future research into this topic. Key findings concern family needs for communication, proximity, support, comfort, assurance and to locate meaning in the event.
Conclusion. The review has revealed current knowledge about the care of family members who accompany a critically ill person into the ED that provides guidelines for practice. Despite significant limitations, the knowledge can lead to recommendation to guide and inform future intervention research.