I wish our unit had had a positive experience when we had open visiting hours but in our case it didn't work out at all. We have a 24 bed ICU and the visitors were out of control. If you asked them to leave, they usually refused. We would find them in the staff kitchen helping themselves to the patients' (and staff's sometimes) food. If there was no one at the nurse's station some people would come and read their family member's chart. They would walk behind the desk and make long distance phone calls on our phones. When we would ask them to leave because of a code or shift report, they would either ignore us or hang out outside the coding patient's room to watch. How fair is that to the coding patient? We tried everything to fix the situation, we tried contracts, posted guidelines, sitting and talking to the family. Nothing worked. It got to the point that the patients weren't getting any rest and would actually ask us to "please throw them out." Our fresh MI patients particularly would be exhausted by the middle of the afternoon and would often sleep for hours after the visitors left. The patients are critically ill and I know the families want to stay but in the long run it doesn't do either one of them any good. The patient needs to rest and the family needs a break away from the bedside. After we reinstituted some type of visiting hours, some of the families said that they were glad because now they don't "feel guilty" if they aren't at the bedside all the time. If the patient is very critical or is dying, that is different and the family comes and goes as they need to. I think some type of restriction is needed. Our unit went to a four hour block of time in the morning, a couple of hours in the late afternoon, and then two hours at night. Visitors were not alowed in at shift changes nor during the night. It doesn't seem to be as bad as it was with the open visiting.
If you are looking for research on open visiting hours, try the AACN website, www.aacn.org,
they have done quite a bit on the subject, and check out CINAHL too.