Dos and Don'ts for Visiting Patients in the Hospital

Caucasian son visiting father in hospital

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It might surprise you to know that hospital visitors can be safety hazards who potentially introduce problems to the patients they hope to cheer or assist. The problems may be directly related to physical harm, or may even be mental or emotional.

It can be difficult to visit a patient in the hospital, but you can have a positive influence on your friend or loved one's recovery if you follow some simple visitor guidelines. Knowing the dos and don'ts may give you the confidence you need.

Do

  • Ask for permission to visit

  • Wash your hands

  • Consider allergies and restrictions on decorations and gifts

  • Turn off cell phone

  • Keep visit short

  • Leave if doctor or provider arrive

Don't

  • Visit if you might be contagious

  • Bring young children

  • Bring food without checking on restrictions

  • Cause stress

  • Avoid visiting

  • Smoke before or during visit

Dos for Hospital Visitors

Do ask the patient's permission to visit before you arrive. Ask them to be candid with you, and if they prefer you not visit, ask them if another day would be better, or if they would prefer you visit once they get home. Many patients love visitors, but some just don't feel up to it. Do the patient the courtesy of asking permission.

Do wash your hands and sanitize them before you touch the patient or hand the patient something you've been touching. If you wash your hands, then touch something else, like a telephone or TV remote or even the bed linens or your jacket, wash your hands and sanitize them again. Infections come from almost any source and the pathogens can survive on surfaces for days. You can't risk being responsible for making your favorite patient even sicker than they already are.

Do take balloons or flowers as long as you know the patient isn't allergic to them and is in a room by themself. If your patient shares a hospital room, you won't want to take either, because you don't know if the roommate has an allergy. Most solid color balloons are latex, which is rubber, and some people are allergic to rubber. When in doubt, take mylar balloons or don't take any at all.

Do consider alternatives to balloons and flowers. A card, something a child has made for you to give to the patient, a book to read, a crossword puzzle book, even a new nightgown or pair of slippers are good choices. The idea isn't to spend much money; instead, it's about making the patient feel cared for without creating problems that might trigger an allergic reaction.

Do turn off your cell phone, or at least turn the ringer off. Different hospitals have different rules about where and when cell phones can be used. In some cases, they may interfere with patient-care devices, so your patient can be at risk if you don't follow the rules. In other cases, it's simply a consideration for those who are trying to sleep and heal and don't want to be annoyed by ringtones.

Do stay for a short time. It's the fact that you have taken the time to visit, and not the length of time you stay, that gives your patient the boost. Staying too long may tire them out. Better to visit more frequently but for no more than a half hour or so each time.

Do leave the room if the doctor or provider arrives to examine or talk to the patient. The conversation or treatment they provide is private, and unless you are a proxy, parent, spouse or someone else who is an official advocate for the patient, that conversation is not your business. You can return once the provider leaves.

Don'ts for Hospital Visitors

Don't enter the hospital if you have any symptoms that could be contagious. Neither the patient nor other hospital workers can afford to catch whatever you have. If you have symptoms like a cough, runny nose, rash or even diarrhea, don't visit. Make a phone call or send a card instead.

During flu season, it is not uncommon for hospitals to restrict visitors to spouses, significant others, family members over 18, and pastors, so it is worthwhile to call the hospital before your visit.

Don't take young children to visit unless it's absolutely necessary. Even then, check with the hospital before you take a child with you. Many hospitals have restrictions on when children may visit.

Don't take food to your patient unless you know the patient can tolerate it. Many patients are put on special diets while in the hospital. This is especially true for those with certain diseases or even those who have recently had anesthesia for surgery. Your goodies could cause big problems.

Don't visit if your presence will cause stress or anxiety. If there is a problem in the relationship, wait until after the patient is well enough to go home before you potentially stress them by trying to mend that relationship.

Don't expect the patient to entertain you. Your friend or loved one is there to heal and get healthy again, not to talk or keep you occupied. It may be better for your patient to sleep or just rest rather than carry on a conversation. If you ask them before you visit, gauge their tone of voice as well as the words they use. They may try to be polite, but may prefer solitude at this time instead of a visit.

Don't stay home, on the other hand, because you assume your friend or loved one prefers you not visit. You won't know until you ask, and your friend or loved one will appreciate the fact that you are trying to help by asking the question.

Don't smoke before visiting or during a visit, even if you excuse yourself to go outdoors. The odor from smoke is nauseating to many people, and some patients have a heightened sense of smell while taking certain drugs or in the sterile hospital environment. At most, it will cause them to feel sicker, and if your friend is a smoker, you may cause them to crave a cigarette, and that might be problematic.

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Article Sources

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  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Patient safety and quality.

  2. Swedish Hospital. Flu season: visitor restrictions now in effect.