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How to Be a Good Hospital Visitor

Visitors play an important role in the recovery of hospitalized people. Each year, one out of every seven Americans needs hospital care. If one of your family members or friends is hospitalized, would you know how to be a good hospital visitor?

Sometimes not knowing what you should or should not do could affect a patient's recovery. Patients may already feel some anxiety when they are hospitalized. For some, it may be a new experience. For others, although they have been hospitalized before, their illness may pose unfamiliar problems. Total health involves physical, mental and spiritual needs.

Here are some tips on how you can help a patient's recovery at the hospital.

   • Patients are more sensitive to noise than they would be under normal conditions. Keep the noise level down not only in the patient's room, but also in the corridors and other parts of the hospital. Use the waiting areas instead of crowding in the hallways to talk to other visitors.
   • Being presentable helps the patient feel comfortable with you.  Dress sensibly and wear footwear. Avoid wearing too much perfume or cologne because it may bother the patient during the recovery period.
   • For patients having a short stay, find out if they would prefer a visit or a call at home where they may be more comfortable and stronger to accommodate visitors.
   • If you want to help in some way, make specific offers. You can run an errand, take the children to school, make a casserole for the family, buy the newspaper or do some light shopping for the patient. Sometimes patients find it difficult to ask for help.
   • Patients should only eat hospital food prepared for them because most patients are on special diets. Outside food is not always beneficial for them -- check with the nurse or the registered dietician before bringing special foods from home. Avoid prescribing your own home remedies or giving medical advice. Doctors know what is best for their patients.
   • Hospital rules are designed for patient's well being. Know and understand the rules. Observe visiting hours because patients need adequate rest. Nurses may also ask you to leave the room in order to care for the patient in privacy.
   • Rest is an important part of the recovery process. Although a patient may be getting better, having visitors can be tiring. Short visits by one or two people at a time are best.
   • Respect the patient. Always knock first on the door even if it is open, to announce yourself. If there is a roommate, be considerate and do not make loud noises.
   • Be yourself when visiting a patient. Try not to act differently toward the patient than you would under normal circumstances.
   • Read the patient's feelings to determine what you should do or talk about. Offer sympathy if it's appropriate. If possible, steer conversation away from problems at work or at home since the patient would not be able to cope with them at this time.
   • It's nice to bring small gifts, letters or cards from other people to the patient but remember to throw away any unwanted trash. The patient's room should be uncluttered and left as clean as possible.
   • All hospitals are smoke-free.  If you have to smoke, do so only in hospital-designated areas.
   • Do not handle any hospital equipment or play with the bed controls. Doing so may accidentally harm the patient.
   • Some patients look forward to having visitors. Make certain that if you promise to come back the next day, you can really do so. If you cannot fulfill your promise to visit, let the patient know.
   • Children may be allowed to visit patients. Always check with the nursing staff to see if the patient's condition will allow children's visits. Children who visit a patient must be supervised by the responsible adult. Unruly children will not be allowed to visit or remain on the nursing unit.
   • If you have any questions about what you can and cannot do, or if you think the patient needs something, ask one of the nurses for help.

Critical/Terminal Patients

Visiting guidelines for critically and terminally ill patients are stricter. Here are a few suggestions for visitors:

   • Check with the patient's family first to see if visitors are allowed. Keep in mind that a patient's strength diminishes with too many visitors.
   • Silence is nothing to be afraid of. If you don't know what to say, you can just sit with the patient. A smile can be worth more than words and can provide valuable support.
   • If the patient prefers to talk, be a good listener. The patient may not have anyone to talk to during certain times of the day.
   • You can make the patient share his/her thoughts with you.
   • You can talk about everyday affairs, people and places. Let the patient bring up religion in a conversation. If you talk about religion first, you may seem to be thrusting your beliefs on the patient.
   • Make the patient comfortable by being relaxed and calm. Respect the patient's feelings. Patients may feel helpless, frustrated, dependent and in pain. All this makes a patient act differently.
   • It's nice to visit patients at the hospital because it shows that you care. The hospital can be a very lonely place but a short visit from you can cheer up a patient.

Your considerate conduct when visiting someone may be better than any greeting card you could send. The hospital is dedicated to providing the best health care possible, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can do your part to ensure this. Be a good visitor.