Visiting the Hospital: 5 Do’s and Don’ts

Visiting at the hospital? Here are some dos and don’ts from hospital advocates, social workers and doctors from across the country.

WHN EXPERT TIP – Be Considerate: Patients get tired, even when there is not a lot of activity. So do family members who have to answer questions over and over again. Jari Holland Buck, author of the Hospital Stay Handbook.

  1. Call the hospital.
    • Check with the nursing staff. Make sure the patient is available for a visit. Sometimes tests or treatments are ordered and require the patient to leave his or her room, says Priscilla Cutler, Community Care Coordinator, Monadnock Community Hospital, Peterborough, NH
  2. Call the “gatekeeper”.
    • Often, patients have an advocate or family member to manage visitors. Check with the ‘gatekeeper’ to determine the best time to visit.
  3. Don’t bring:
    • Food: The patient may have a restricted diet or tests that require nothing-by-mouth or new conditions may have been diagnosed that prohibit certain foods, says Priscilla Cutler, Community Care Coordinator, Monadnock Community Hospital, Peterborough, NH.
    • Pets
    • Plants and flowers for ICU patients: They may not be allowed as they grow mold and some patients have allergies to them. Ask first before sending or bringing flowers, says Jari Holland Buck, author of the Hospital Stay Handbook.
    • Small children: Kids can be overwhelmed by the hospital and kids also tend to carry more colds and illness. Unless the visit is something that is really meaningful, like to a parent, leave them at home, says Dr. Sharon Langshur, co-founder of CarePages.
    • Strong scents: Do not wear perfumes/creams/shampoos, etc. Be as fragrance-free as possible, since most patients have a heightened sense of smell, says Priscilla Cutler, Community Care Coordinator, Monadnock Community Hospital, Peterborough, NH.
  4. At the hospital, use good judgment.
    • Check with the staff before heading to the patient’s room. The patient may be resting or in the middle of important tests.
    • Keep visits brief, stay quiet and be polite.
      • Take your cue from the patient. Generally, someone’s in the hospital because they’re not well. Patients can also feel very exposed. They’re in a hospital gown, tubes may be coming out of their nose and mouth. So assume that the visit is going to be short, says Dr. Sharon Langshur, co-founder of CarePages.
      • When hospital employees enter the patient room, listen quietly or leave the room during their interaction with the patient.
      • Have questions about the patient’s condition? Talk to the family member or patient advocate. Often the hospital staff will only communicate with the person who is providing primary caregiving to the patient such as a spouse or parent.
  5. If you’re sick, stay home! Jari Holland Buck says that patients already have compromised immune systems due to their injury, illness or surgery.

WHN EXPERT TIP – After You Leave: Sanitize the bottom of your purse or bag as well as the bottom of your shoes before contact with anyone following a visit to the hospital. Also, change out of and launder any clothing that may have touched the patient such as a tie. That way you won’t catch germs or pass things on to others. Jari Holland Buck, author of the Hospital Stay Handbook.

WHN EXPERT TIP – If You Can’t Visit, Reach Out to the Patient: The biggest single “don’t” is to do nothing. Do something. Illness often makes people uncomfortable but illness can be so isolating. Take a step and drop a card, leave a message, email, whatever it may be. Just reaching out to the patient and the caregiver by leaving a message they can pick up whenever they have time can make a huge difference. Dr. Sharon Langshur, co-founder of CarePages.