How to Visit Someone in the Hospital

InpatientFamily200X200When you hear that a friend or family member has been admitted to the hospital, the first instinct may be to rush to the hospital to show them how much you care. Love and support from family and friends is an important part of any sick person’s recovery. But there are a few things you can remember to make sure your visit does the most good for the person you love.

First of all, don't visit if you are not feeling well or have a cough or cold. Visiting an already-sick person — even if you have what seems to you like “just a cough”—puts your loved one and potentially many other patients at risk. The patient could manifest your illness in a much more serious way and end up with life-threatening complications.

When you are entering the hospital, wash or sanitize your hands. Clean hands are the single most important factor in stopping the spread of illness. Wash your hands, wash the hands of children visiting, and remind doctors and nurses to wash their hands, too. Hand sanitizing stations are located all through the hospital and are for anyone to use. Just ask hospital staff if you want to locate a hand sanitizer.

Know the visiting policy for the area you are visiting before you come. The hours and how many people can visit are specific to each area. If you have questions about visiting a particular location, call the main phone number, 802-442-6361, and ask to speak to the nurses' station where your loved one is staying.

Once you’ve checked in with the nurses caring for your loved one, call the patient, too. Your loved one might be happy to see you, but she may be really tired or uncomfortable. She might really appreciate a ten-minute visit, but 45 minutes may be too long. Tell her that her rest is the most important thing, and let her set the length of visit.

You may be tempted to bring along the patient’s favorite foods. Patients are often on special diets that are crucial to their recovery. It is common for people in the hospital to have a specialized diet for tests, procedures or manage their condition. Good options, instead of bringing food are magazines, newspaper, puzzle books, flowers, a Mylar balloon, or a framed family photo are all good alternatives.

Similarly, you may want to bring other people with you. In this case, “the more the merrier” does not apply. Only a few people should visit at once. More than three or four visitors can overcrowd a room, overwhelm a patient, and make it difficult for providers to care for the patient. Think of the hospital in the same way that you would think of a library. Be quiet and considerate of other patients’ needs in the hallways and in your loved one’s room.

Finally, consider how you may best show your care and concern after the person returns home after a hospital stay. An offering to take a person to a doctor’s visit, go grocery shopping, run errands, walk the dog, or make a trip to the pharmacy may be greatly appreciated. A greeting card with your telephone number and a note saying, “Call me if I can do anything for you.” is another great way to show you care.

Recovering from an illness is hard work and requires time for recovery. By following these simple guidelines, your friend or family member will get all of the benefits of your support.

Jennifer Fels, MS, RN, is the director of Bennington Blueprint. For more information, contact “Health Matters” is a column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care.