Some hospital intensive-care units are bucking tradition by allowing patients’ family and friends to visit for unlimited hours.

ICUs care for the sickest patients in high-tech, antiseptic environments. Most have strict limits on what time relatives can come and how long they can stay. Children typically are banned. Hospitals say the restrictions are meant to keep patients from being disturbed when they need calm and to allow medical staff to get on with their jobs uninterrupted.

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Research showing intensive-care patients may actually fare better with more outside visitors has prompted some hospitals to lift restrictions. Some advocacy groups, and ICU doctors and nurses, also have pushed for changes.

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