What is an intensive care unit?

An intensive care unit (ICU), sometimes called a critical care unit, is a specially designated area of the hospital where patients with serious illness or injury receive care. Care is provided by a team of specialists who monitor and treat the patient around the clock. Staff in the ICU are specially trained to use many different kinds of complex medical equipment to help monitor and treat seriously ill patients.

[ back to top ]

Are there different kinds of intensive care units?

Yes. In larger hospitals like as Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, there are several different ICUs. Some of the terms you may hear describing the ICUs are:

  • MICU: Medical Intensive Care Unit
  • CCU: Coronary Care Unit
  • SICU: Surgical Intensive Care Unit
  • Neuro ICU: Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit
  • T/SICU: Trauma SICU
  • CVICU: Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit
  • MICU/SICU: A combined Medical/Surgical Intensive Care Unit

[ back to top ]

Why does the medical team change so often?

Each physician member of the ICU medical team is on a rotating schedule. Attending physicians are usually on service for two weeks at a time. The residents and interns rotate through all different specialties in the hospital in order to complete their training. Because of this, the team itself is constantly changing.

[ back to top ]

May I visit a patient in intensive care?

We encourage visiting and are committed to flexibility to best meet the patient's and family's needs. We therefore do not have specific "visiting hours," but encourage you to visit at the times that you think are best for you and your loved one.

If the situation arises where it is better or safer for your loved one to not have visitors, your nurse will let you know and will ask you to step out for a few moments.

For security purposes, all hospital doors are locked after 8 p.m., except those located at the main entrance to each of BIDMC's campuses. If you are visiting after 8 p.m., please check in with Security at the main entrance.

[ back to top ]

Can I stay overnight at the hospital?

We do have a limited number of sleep rooms available for family and visitors of ICU patients. Please speak to your nurse about availability of these rooms and how to reserve one.

[ back to top ]

Can I bring flowers or plants to the ICU?

Unfortunately, plants and flowers are not permitted in intensive care. Critically ill patients have a lot of work to do in the healing process. Their immune systems are already working hard to fight infection and heal damaged tissue. Plants can sometimes carry insects and germs into the environment that may further stress your loved one's immune system.

[ back to top ]

Can I bring balloons to the ICU?

You can bring balloons to the hospital as long as they do not contain latex. Many people have an allergy to latex so we recommend bringing balloons made of mylar. All balloons sold in BIDMC's gift shops are made of mylar and are safe to bring to patients in the ICU.

[ back to top ]

Why might a patient be restrained while in the ICU?

Sometimes, illness or injury causes patients to become disoriented, confused, or agitated. When this happens, we must be concerned about safety. You may notice restraints on a patient's wrists, ankles, or elsewhere. This is to ensure that patients do not pull at necessary equipment, such as IV lines or tubes, or try to get out of bed when they are too ill to walk alone.

[ back to top ]

What is the best way to communicate with extended family and friends who want updates on a patient?

BIDMC has teamed up with Lotsa Helping Hands, which provides a free and easy way for people going through a life-changing health event to create a personalized, private group calendar designed for organizing helpers. Lotsa Helping Hands allows you to set up a schedule for volunteers to help with tasks such as meal delivery and rides to the hospital.

[ back to top ]

Patient and Family Engagement Program seeks to Improve our Diversity and Inclusion: Related Links
In order to ensure that our advisory councils are representative of the diverse patient population at BIDMC, we are seeking applicants representing African American, Asian American, Latino, Muslim, LGBTQ, veteran, and other minority communities. Social Work
Acute Care Surgery, Trauma, and Surgical Critical Care
Quality and Safety
Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine
Case Management
Palliative Care Program
Spiritual Care and Education
Ethics Programs
Interpreter Services
For ICU Patients & Families
A New Way to Communicate
MyICU Learn more about MyICU