Dr. Pauline Chen asks this question in her article, "Losing Touch with the Patient," which was published in last week's New York Time (October 21, 2010). The story Dr. Chen tells is one of the patients for which she helped care, a man with an infection from a multi-drug resistant organism and who spent the last few weeks of his life in contact isolation. Dr. Chen observed the patient's emotional shift during contact isolation - as healthcare workers' visits became infrequent and less interactive due to isolation precautions, the patient withdrew emotionally.
Contact isolation is meant to prevent the spread of infections. Previous researches have shown that patients in contact isolation receive lower quality of care and are more dissatisfied with their care. The question, therefore, is how hospitals can best balance the interest of individual patients to the patient population at large.
Links to contact isolation research:
Safety of Patients Isolated for Infection Control
Ethical Implications of Active Surveillance Cultures and Contact Precautions for Controlling Multidrug Resistant Organisms in the Hospital Setting