Visitor Dos and Don’ts – A Guide for Drama-Free Hospital Visits

Visiting someone in the hospital doesn’t seem like something for which you’d need coaching, does it? But hospitals can be emotionally tricky and sensitive for patients especially when visitors arrive. So if you find yourself planning to pay a visit to a patient, then some of these tips may help keep the visit as pleasant and pain-free as possible.

Know before you go

Being prepared can make all the difference in how smoothly the visit goes, so plan ahead:

  • When is the best time to visit? Showing up unannounced is disruptive, and it is disrespectful of the patient, both of which are contrary to the visit’s purpose, so confirm hospital visiting hours and any guidelines, routines, or restrictions you should be aware of; it’s also a good idea to check with the patient (or a friend/relative) about their preferences for a visit.
  • Is it still a good time to stop by? Patient health can fluctuate, plan of care can change – or the patient may just not feel like having any visitors, so follow up with hospital staff, friends/relatives, or the patient themselves, to make sure it’s still a good time to visit.
  • Should I bring anything/anyone? Things like a get-well card, magazines, crossword puzzles, and are thoughtful ways to cheer patients, but some items can be more stressful than comforting – flowers risk causing someone’s allergies to flare up – so it’s a good idea to clear any get-well gifts before bringing them to the hospital. Don’t bring any “plus ones” unless you’ve cleared it with the patient/family first, and try to avoid bringing young children along – not only can they be disruptive, but the experience may be upsetting for them.

Be tactful during the visit

Remember that the purpose of your visit is to bring comfort and cheer to the patient:

  • I already know where to go, so can I just walk in? Check in with the front desk first, so they can monitor how many visitors are in the room at a time – there’s usually a limit. Hospital rooms aren’t usually very large; doctors, nurses, and housekeeping staff need space to tend to the patient or the room, and the patient may feel stressed with too many people in the room at once. Not only that, but you don’t want to interrupt a procedure or private discussion, so be respectful – don’t barge in, and stay out of the way or leave the room, if needed.
  • Is it okay to bring my own food/drink? Bringing your own snacks into someone’s hospital room is not only in poor taste, but it might be against hospital section rules. Eat before or after the visit, or in the lounge / café section of the hospital (first floor), just avoid eating in the patient’s room.
  • Can I ask questions? In general, mind your own beeswax – it’s okay to ask how they’re feeling, but you’re not “Dr. House”, so refrain from asking personal questions or offering your own medical opinions on the patient’s diagnosis or care.
  • Am I allowed to use my phone or computer? First of all, if you are there to visit, so visit. No need for devices to support a friend or loved one. Second, if you must, ask if it’s OK when you check in – many areas of a hospital require electronics be turned off so as not to interfere with hospital equipment. Even if it’s okay, be considerate of the patient and step outside the room or meander to the nearest snack/lounge area to use your phone or computer.

Every situation is different, and every patient is unique; when in doubt, find out – call the hospital, check the website, or ask staff on site, and they’ll be happy to help you help the patient feel better.