How To Be A Good Visitor

It’s No Fun Being a Patient:

Being a patient is scary and stressful. Worries about the diagnosis, treatment and outcome are just the top of the iceberg. There are also worries about the job, the family, the pets, the mail, the bills, the house, the yard… to name a few. Besides being worrisome, being a patient can be boring and quite lonely. Identity and dignity are oftentimes lost in the world of too short, too small, rear-exposing hospital attire. There is no question that an ill person, whether at home, in the hospital, rehabilitation center or skilled nursing facility, would like to have visitors. The distraction and caring that visitors bring is a welcome addition to an otherwise scary, boring and lonely day. There are several ways that you can be a visitor who brings joy to the patient rather than being one who contributes to the patient’s stress.

When Should You Not Visit:

One of the most important things to consider is NOT visiting a sick person if you are not feeling well yourself. Don’t even think about it. People who are ill have suppressed immune systems. The last thing they need is to be exposed to someone else’s germs.

Before Paying a Visit:

If at all possible, call in advance of your visit to see if the patient is up for company. If it is not feasible for you to call first, always stop at the nurse’s desk before entering a patient’s room and ask the nurse to check with the patient to see if it is okay for you to visit. This gives the patient an opportunity to politely decline your visit…for whatever reason. Remember not to take this rejection personally. Patients are in the hospital because they are sick or recovering from surgery. Their level of wellness at any given time may fluctuate and unfortunately, may not coincide with your desired visit.

Find out the meal times on the patient floor and try to avoid visiting during those times. Meal times are not the best time to visit as some persons often feel uncomfortable eating while their guest sits and watches. In addition, conversation during meal time can result in hot food or drinks getting cold. On the other hand, your patient may very much welcome your bringing a delicious favorite meal for the both of you so you can eat together. Be sure to check with the nurse first to find out if the patient’s diet is restricted in any way.

Find out if there is a time during the day that the patient likes to or needs to rest. You don’t want to visit during that time.

Be sure to wash your hands upon entering the patient’s room and when departing. You want to avoid bringing outside germs into the sick patient’s environment. And you want to leave any hospital germs right where you found them before going home.

What to Bring On Your Visit:

Ask the patient if there is anything that you can bring them when you come to visit. You can offer to bring food if you are visiting the patient at home or at a health care facility, but you must know whether or not the patient is on a restricted diet so you can bring food items that the patient is permitted to eat.

If you feel you need to bring a gift, use your creativity. Think out of the box. Remember that anything you bring to the hospital needs to be carried out and transported home. Bring a written certificate for a free home -cooked meal to be prepared & delivered by you when the patient comes home. Bring 2 tickets to the movies for when they feel better and are able to get out. Bring them an IUO for a nice lunch together. Offer to babysit for the kids one Saturday night. Prepare several get well notes and/or cards and mail them one every few days. There is also the option of a novel, a book of crossword or other puzzles. Don’t forget to include a pencil with an eraser. Something sweet to eat may be appreciated… if it is allowed on a restricted diet and if it doesn’t make the patient nauseous. And don’t ever underestimate the power of a warm, fuzzy & BRIEF phone call to check up on them.

What Not to Bring:

Be sure not to wear strong fragrances, including lotions, hair sprays, perfumes, aftershave, etc when visiting sick individuals. The smells can make them nauseous. Flowers are a nice gesture but there are many patient areas where there is just no room for flowers…. especially in Intensive Care Units (ICU’s). ICU’s don’t allow flowers because they use up oxygen. Many patients may be allergic to flowers. Some patients get nauseous from the fragrance. Others don’t like them because it reminds them of a funeral parlor. Plants can be nice, but bothersome to transport home. .. and they need to be watered. Balloons can be a nice alternative if the space permits. One or two balloons are usually adequate. Anything larger gets in the way of the staff.

When You Don’t Know What to Say:

Some people simply don’t know what to say to someone who is really sick or who may be dying. Don’t ever let this stop you from visiting. Let the patient know that you don’t know what to say or what to do..but you are there because you care. This is a great icebreaker because the patient will know that you really do care. Sometimes it may mean sitting with the patient in silence, but this, too, is okay and lets the patient know you care.

Begin by asking the patient if they have the energy for a conversation. If they don’t, be sensitive to that. Some people don’t want to share their health-related information. If that is the message they send you, accept it and move on. If they do appear to want to talk and share, start by asking them how they are. They may take it from there and give you details about their condition… or they may not. Try and ask open-ended questions that they have to answer, such as ” What kind of a day are you having”? Avoid close-ended ones that they can answer “yes” or “no”, such as “Are you having a good day”? Be sensitive to the patient’s energy level. If they appear weak or fatigued, they probably are… and they probably don’t feel like having a conversation with you or anyone else .

Know When it is Time to Leave:

It is very important that you watch the patient carefully during your visit for any indication that they are getting tired or weak. If someone is really sick, a 20 minute visit is about all they can handle. Remember it is not the quantity of the visit, but rather the quality that counts. Patients appreciate visits, especially from visitors who know the proper visitation etiquette. Visiting someone in the health care setting is definitely a way of saying you care. Be sure to avoid any negative conversation that can emotionally upset the patient. There is no need to be joking and fooling around… but there is no need to be serious and morbid either. You will get the sense of the patient’s demeanor if you pay attention and actively listen. Go with the flow.

Be sure to offer to excuse yourself from the room anytime a member of the patient’s health care team comes in to administer care to or talk with the patient. If the staff member and patient say it is alright to stay, express your desire to be helpful and ask for guidance so you can do so. Help the patient answer the phone if it rings while you are there. Offer to help them make a phone call. Pour them some fresh water and assist them with a drink. Sit in a chair close to the bed. Try and sit where they don’t have to strain to see you. It is best to sit in front of them so they don’t have to strain their necks. Talk quietly but audibly so they can hear you. Try and make eye contact. Hold their hand. Rub their arm.

Before you depart from your visit, once again ask the patient if there is anything you can do for them. Alert the patient’s nurse when you leave so he or she will know that the patient is being left unattended. Oftentimes, the nurse won’t check up on the patient if s/he knows that someone is in the room with them. Make sure the nurse’s call bell is within reach of the patient when you leave so that they can call the nurse if they need to.

Historically, patients tend to get much better and more attentive care when the staff sees that the patient has visitors who are supportive and caring. Keep this in mind next time you think about visiting a patient in the health care setting.


I visited a friend shortly after she had a shoulder replacement. When I arrived unexpectedly, my friend had just finished her Physical Therapy and was in a tremendous amount of pain. I advocated for her by alerting her nurse that she was in pain and waiting to make sure that her pain medication was administered. After asking my friend if there was anything else I could do for her, I kissed her goodbye and left so that she could rest.

My Minister was in the hospital recuperating from appendicitis. My Mother was in the same hospital recuperating from a bad fall. I placed my Mother in a wheelchair and took her to my Minister’s patient care area on another floor of the hospital. When we arrrived on that floor, I stopped at the nurse’s desk and asked one of the nurses to ask my Minister if we could visit. I did not enter his room until the nurse checked and made sure it was okay. Having respect for the privacy needs of a patient is very important.

Comments are closed.