Hospital sitters provide continuous companionship and observation of a patient, helping to keep impaired patients from hurting themselves, particularly those suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease and those at risk of falling. Sitters may talk to patients, play games with them and run errands but are not allowed to care for patients or provide physical contact. Instead, they contact the nurse in charge in the event of an emergency.
Hospitals use sitters for patients at increased risk of injury and high profile patients. Sitters assist doctors and nurses, who usually do not have time to continually monitor patients. Sitters may also keep a journal detailing every doctor and nurse visit, procedures conducted and expected and actual outcomes.
The companionship they provide patients reduces loneliness and depression in patients, improving their health outcomes. They reassure the patient's loved ones and may maintain important legal documents for the patient, such as emergency contact information and advanced directives.
Although use of sitters is standard practice at hospitals, research analyzing their effectiveness at keeping patients safe and their cost-effectiveness has yielded inconsistent results. However, evidence shows that use of sitters reduces the chance of falls and severity of injuries, which may justify their cost.