In spite of the many advancements of modern technology, laughter remains the best medicine. And, who better to share a laugh with than your closest family and friends?

According to the Prairie North Regional Health Authority (PNRHA), there is no way to truly answer such a question, thus leading to the organization recently doing away with specific visiting hours at its hospitals and other facilities. While the posted visiting hours of 2 to 8 p.m. were never strictly enforced at the Meadow Lake Hospital, people can now rest assured they won’t be overstaying their welcome if they choose to visit their loved ones whenever and for however long they see fit. Not only does this relaxation of the rules allow for a much more comforting stay for the patient, it’s a great move on the part of the health region because it shows Prairie North truly does want to help the people in their charge far beyond what can be done from a traditional health care perspective.

The magazine Psychology Today put it quite succinctly when it published an article on the importance of healthy relationships. For years, the story notes, people have been told the best ways to reduce stress and, in turn, improve their overall well-being are through exercise, meditation and relaxation. But, this advice misses what may be the most important source of stress reduction – relationships. The magazine goes on to cite a study that indicates people with strong relationships have a 50 per cent lower risk of mortality than those who are isolated and without social support.

Meanwhile, according to several online sources, loneliness shows up in measurements of stress hormones, immune function, and cardiovascular function. Lonely adults consume more alcohol and get less exercise than those who are not lonely. Their diet is higher in fat, their sleep is less efficient, and they report more daytime fatigue. Loneliness also disrupts the regulation of cellular processes deep within the body, predisposing people to premature ageing.

Now, imagine all of this compounded by the natural depression most folks feel when they have no choice but to remain confined to a hospital bed for a fixed period of time. So, simply put, Prairie North seems to be on to something with this new endeavour. What’s even better, however, is this initiative isn’t limited to PNRHA alone. The change is part of a province-wide effort to implement an open family presence policy. According to health minister Dustin Duncan, all health regions are now moving toward more flexible visiting hours, which will welcome families depending on the patient’s preference. Duncan said this approach recognizes families are important partners in patient care, and are not simply visitors. Duncan was also on the money when he said loved ones play an essential role in improving patients’ health.

Both the province and Prairie North should be commended for putting patients first and realizing the need to keep families and friends together during trying times. This indeed is a step in the right direction.