Visiting a patient in a hospital isn’t as simple as stopping by someone’s home for a coffee and a chat. You are going to see a person who isn’t feeling or looking their best. They’re in a place where no one likes to be. It can be difficult to find the right thing to say to help them feel better, and there can be awkward pauses in conversation.
A ‘good’ visit can really cheer a patient up, and feeling positive will aid their recovery, but when it doesn’t go well it can make your friend or family member feel worse, which is the last thing anyone would want.
So based on our many years of visiting patients in hospital, we’ve compiled 15 top tips for successful hospital visits. Follow these and you can be confident that your visit did not detract from the patient’s care and hopefully in some way aided their recovery. And check out the bonus tip at the end of this blog for the patient or their close family.
Hospital Visit Etiquette
Planning the actual visit to someone in hospital needs a little thought and empathy. And there are a few ‘rules’ that anyone visiting a hospital patient should be sensitive to:
1. Not The Right Time For Questions
People tend to combine wishing a patient well with a short interrogation.
“Oh my gosh - I was so shocked when I heard! How are you doing? What on earth happened? What can I do?”
The intention is well-meaning, but the execution may need a little work! This is not about your need for information, but what the patient’s needs. They can feel vulnerable and they are in an unfamiliar place facing a health crisis and for various reasons they may not want to share details about their diagnosis/prognosis or the treatments and tests they are facing.
So before launching into questions, you need to ascertain their frame of mind. Be guided by their responses and the information they freely offer.
2. Plan When you’re Going to Visit:
First, you should notify the patient or a family member when you plan to come. Make sure it’s a good time for the patient.
3. Know The Rules:
You need to be cognizant of the hospital visiting guidelines. Most hospitals have their visitation times and rules posted near the main entrance, as well as on their website. Before you visit your friend or family member, make sure you check that your planned time is ok with the hospital as well as the patient!
4. When To Stay Away:
At all times, but even more so in this era of Covid-19, don't visit if you are sick. Stay well away if you have a fever, cough, or any other sign of sickness. The last thing that is needed in a place where people's immune systems are weak, are your germs.
5. Hand Sanitizer isn’t Just For Covid-19!
Continuing from item 4 above, it is important to be diligent about washing (or sanitizing) your hands before and after you visit your friend or family member. You don't want to take germs into or out of the hospital.
6. Set limits for your stay:
There is no need to stay for hours and hours (unless you are the spouse, parent, or child of the patient.). Most of the time, 15 or 20 minutes is an adequate amount of time for a meaningful visit. Staying too long may interfere with the patient’s need for rest and they may be too polite to say anything, so you need to be sensitive.
7. Respecting Privacy:
A patient has to give up privacy to the medical staff, but that does not extend to others. Before entering the room, knock and enter only after you are invited.
8. Don’t offer Medical Advice:
Avoid the urge to “diagnose” unless you are a doctor. Uncle Max may have had similar symptoms, but this is not the time or place to share them or to detail his sad demise.
9. Show a Little Sensitivity:
Never tell a person how bad he or she looks. It may be true but it is hardly helpful for them to be reminded of that and try to ignore any tubes or beeping machines. You may understandably be a little shocked by all this but don't show it. Bursting into tears when you see your friend is also probably not going to help them to feel better. And if you are squeamish, consider whether a phone call might be better for all concerned.
Try to keep the noise down. A hospital isn’t a library but it still is not a good place for loud voices, laughter or YouTube videos played from your phone at full volume. And the person you are visiting may be on an open ward or in a semi-private room, so have some consideration for the other patients.
11: Patients Have Ears:
The patient may appear to be asleep or perhaps be non-responsive but that does not necessarily mean they cannot hear you, so don’t say anything in front of them that you would not say if they were awake.
12: Ease up on The Chanel No.5:
It is a really good idea when visiting a hospital not to wear perfume or cologne.
13. Consider Where to Sit:
Don’t sit on the patient’s bed. There is usually a chair near each bed or not far away and if not, simply stand.
14. Try to Leave The Kids at Home:
Unless the purpose of the visit is for the child to see the patient (perhaps a parent) it is best to leave them at home, especially younger children. They can get rowdy, put things in their mouths (not a great idea in a place like a hospital), touch things they should not, etc.
15: Know When to Step Out:
If a Doctor or nurse comes in while you are there, always leave the room unless the patient invites you to stay. Obviously, If the patient is your child or you are the patient’s advocate, you will be allowed to stay when the doctor is present.
Bonus Tip For the Patient, or Immediate Family
Designate one spokesperson for friends and visitors to contact for updates.
This will save nurses having to repeatedly fill in visitors (and deal with the confidentiality issues involved in this) and it can stop the patient being bombarded with texts and WhatsApp messages all asking the same thing.
What other hospital visit tips would you add to our list? Please comment below. You’ll be helping other people to have successful visits!