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Lo AX, Wedel LK, Liu SW, Wongtangman T, Thatphet P, Santangelo I, Chary AN, Biddinger PD, Grudzen CR, Kennedy M. COVID-19 hospital and emergency department visitor policies in the United States: Impact on persons with cognitive or physical impairment or receiving end-of-life care. Journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians open. 2022 Feb 1; 3(1):e12622.
OBJECTIVE: To characterize the national distribution of COVID-19 hospital and emergency department visitor restriction policies across the United States, focusing on patients with cognitive or physical impairment or receiving end-of-life care. METHODS: Cross-sectional study of visitor policies and exceptions, using a nationally representative random sample of EDs and hospitals during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, by trained study investigators using standardized instrument. RESULTS: Of the 352 hospitals studied, 326 (93%) had a COVID-19 hospital-wide visitor restriction policy and 164 (47%) also had an ED-specific policy. Hospital-wide policies were more prevalent at academic than non-academic (96% vs 90%; < 0.05) and at urban than rural sites (95% vs 84%; < 0.001); however, the prevalence of ED-specific policies did not significantly differ across these site characteristics. Geographic region was not associated with the prevalence of any visitor policies. Among all study sites, only 58% of hospitals reported exceptions for patients receiving end-of-life care, 39% for persons with cognitive impairment, and 33% for persons with physical impairment, and only 12% provided policies in non-English languages. Sites with ED-specific policies reported even fewer exceptions for patients with cognitive impairment (29%), with physical impairments (24%), or receiving end-of-life care (26%). CONCLUSION: Although the benefits of visitor policies towards curbing COVID-19 transmission had not been firmly established, such policies were widespread among US hospitals. Exceptions that permitted family or other caregivers for patients with cognitive or physical impairments or receiving end-of-life care were predominantly lacking, as were policies in non-English languages.