12 Tips for the Best Hospital Etiquette, Part 1

Hospital Visitor LgWhether you’re a patient or visitor, no one likes being in a hospital. Yet research shows that when someone is sick in a hospital—especially for more than two days, it lifts their spirits and aids in recovery when relatives and friends visit.

[Click here for additional information on “The proof that visiting people in the hospital really does them good”… also at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-410783/The-proof-visiting-people-hospital-really-does-good.html#]

This month’s tip is all about how to visit someone in a hospital or care facility with the utmost respect and consideration for everyone affected. Next month in Part 2, I’ll focus on how to prepare children to act like angels throughout a hospital visit.

1. Call to ask permission.
Showing up unannounced would be rude and perhaps a waste of time if the patient is otherwise engaged with a doctor, other friends, or sleeping.

2. Confirm all plans with the hospital. The doctor and the hospital have the final word about whether you can visit. Call the nurses’ station and speak to the person handling the patient’s care to confirm what’s appropriate when visiting. Considerations include:

  • What times during the day are best? Most hospitals have set visiting hours and times when certain activities take place daily, such as shift changes. You do not want to waste a trip or be sitting around for a long time.
  • Are there any special instructions to keep in mind during the visit?
  • Are children allowed and at what age are they permitted? What about bringing the patient’s pet—not your pet, of course! Most hospitals do not allow pets to visit; however, rehab and other facilities often do. It will not hurt to ask.

3. Plan to bring a gift. A few ideas include:

  • A hand-made or personalized get well card.
  • Silk flowers or a small potted plant that will last longer through recovery, instead of fresh cut flowers
  • A book or magazine the patient would enjoy reading
  • Balloons if you know the patient will enjoy them and is not allergic to the rubber in most solid color balloons, which is latex. When in doubt, bring Mylar balloons
  • Fun puzzle or activity books are usually my first choice of a gift. I head to the children’s department to find an easy activity book the patient will be able to finish with pride, versus becoming frustrated over something more complex.
  • Food and drink, prepared favorite foods, chocolates, and other sweet or savory items, but only when you know the patient will be permitted to eat and enjoy them.
  • Photos of recent activities the patient may have missed attending. Your phone or electronic devices make this so easy to do.
  • An electronic device, such as an iPad, on which the patient can enjoy viewing items on the Internet, playing games, checking email, and downloading music. This would be my best “play toy.”
  • Clothing and other room decorations, such as a nicer nightgown than the hospital provides, a cardigan sweater to stay warm, easy slip on and off slippers, or small colorful blanket to brighten up the bed.
  • If the room has a DVD player, give or lend the patient a few DVDs to help pass the day. Being in a hospital with nothing to do, day after day, is no fun.

4. Check your health.
Ask yourself if you feel fit, or whether you feel like you’re coming down with something, including coughing, sneezing, and runny nose. There is nothing worse than going to a hospital to contribute more germs when your patient’s immune system is weak.

5. Call the hospital. Confirm there are no schedule procedures or activities for that period. Calling ahead will potentially avoid a wasted trip.

6. Call the patient. Remind the patient you are coming, just in case she or he may have double booked the same time with someone else. Ask again if there is something in particular you can to bring.

7. Be as clean as possible. Germs are carried on your hands, your body, and clothing. Shower as close to the time of your visit and wear clean clothes. Washing your clothes after the visit will also prevent germs from remaining in your home.

8. Clean your hands.
When arriving at the hospital, use one of the sanitary liquid dispensers before entering the patient’s room. Most likely you’ll shake hands, give the patient a hug, or be touching the patient’s items during your visit.

9. Knock first. Whether the door is fully closed or slightly ajar, always gently knock on the door to announce your arrival and wait to be invited in. If you peek in and see the patient is asleep, do not wake him or her. Instead, check in at the nurses’ station to confirm the situation.

10. Keep it short and sweet. Stay 15 to 20 minutes, and no longer than 30 minutes for any visit, regardless of what the patient may say. In many instances the person is just being polite. One of the questions to ask, early in the visit, is whether other visitors are expected that day. Then you will know whether a longer stay will be appropriate.

11. Offer to leave whenever a nurse or doctor enters the room. I assure you it’s much nicer to offer than to have some ask you to leave. Be nice about waiting in the hall or waiting room or perhaps use this opportunity to say good-bye.

12. Make the visit fun and upbeat. No one enjoys sitting around with nothing to talk about besides their illness. During the visit:

  • Keep topics light and general. Do not allow conversation to become agitated or heated.
  • Keep the noise level down. As much as you want to have fun, keep voices, laughter, and noises from games, videos, and cell phones, down, to be respectful to everyone else in that ward.
  • Help with tasks. Whatever can be done to help make the room look nicer or more practical will help make the stay more pleasant. Offer to water the plants in the room, straighten up the stack of magazines, or fold blankets. Tape the patient’s cards and photos on the wall. When making a home visit, offer to bring a prepared food dish to heat up, wash the dishes, and do other chores around the house, including changing bed sheets.
  • Do not be too inquisitive. It is not appropriate to ask too many questions about the patient’s illness, or to touch any charts or equipment to gain information. If you must know, ask at the nurses’ station.
  • Don’t play doctor. Do not offer advice or diagnoses as a result of others you know with similar situations.
  • Avoid wearing fragrance of any kind to the hospital. Patients may have allergies to whatever you are wearing.
  • Respect the privacy of roommates. When patients have roommates, respect the other person’s privacy and need for rest. Do not stay long, and keep your voice and noise levels down. In rare instances, you can engage the roommate, but only when the patient you are visiting initiates it and knows it will be appropriate.

If the patient has access to email, It’s nice to write an uplifting follow-up message, expressing how much you enjoyed the visit and how you look forward to seeing the person again real soon.

Never leave your cell phone or other devices turned on in a hospital. Most hospitals post signs stating all visitors must turn off their phones entirely to prevent interference with hospital equipment.

QUESTION: What other helpful things do you do when visiting someone in a hospital?

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5 Responses to "12 Tips for the Best Hospital Etiquette, Part 1"

    • Syndi Seid says: