Visiting a hospitalized relative or friend
Plan ahead to make it a positive experience
By Lisa M. Petsche
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If you are planning to visit a relative or friend in the hospital, follow these suggestions to help ensure a positive experience.
Before you go
Call ahead to the patient or his or her next of kin to find out if visits are welcomed, and if so, the best time of day to come. Also ask if there is anything you can bring.
If you are not an immediate family member or close friend, reconsider visiting unless the patient has few local supports. Instead, send a card or e-mail (some hospitals offer the latter option on their website) and plan a visit when the person returns home.
Before arranging for any kind of get-well gift, find out the hospital's policy around balloons and flowers and take into account space limitations in the patient's room. It's best to hold off on plants, balloon bouquets or gift baskets until the personis discharged home.
Before planning to bring in food or beverages, find out if any dietary restrictions have been implemented.
Postpone your visit if you are not feeling well. Telephone instead.
What to bring
If you feel the need to bring something, keep it simple and practical. Ideas include reading material, a note book and pen, a box of facial tissue, hand sanitizer for the bedside and ear plugs, especially if the person is a light sleeper.
Some ideas for cheering a patient: bring children's artwork, decorative window clings or a special food treat.
If the person's finances are limited, arrange to pay for telephone or TV service. If he or she is expected to be hospitalized for a while, you may wish to pool resources with relatives or friends.
What not to bring
For security reasons, don't bring the patient anything of value. Discourage him or her from keeping identification, jewelry, electronics or more than a few dollars on hand.
Don't bring in prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications or herbal remedies. Interactions with medications the hospital physician has prescribed could prove harmful. The same goes for alcohol.
Don't wear perfume or cologne or bring the patient heavily scented toiletries. Many healthcare facilities are now designated "fragrance-free" environments due to staff and patient allergies.
Find out what the visiting hours are and stick to them.
Clean your hands when you enter and leave the hospital, and also before and after visiting in the patient's room. It's important for everyone's sake to prevent the spread of disease-causing microorganisms.
Watch for signs regarding the use of cell phones. Typically they must be turned off in clinical areas. In permissible locations, set your phone to vibrate mode and exercise discretion when conversing about sensitive matters.
If the patient is in isolation - indicated by a sign on or beside their door - go to the nurses' station to inquire whether he or she can have visitors and if so, what precautions to take. You may need to don gloves, a gown and a mask. Although it may be inconvenient, it;s important to follow all instructions.
If you are not the patient's next of kin, don;t request medical information from staff or get involved in care issues. If you are one of several immediate family members, keep in mind that patients are asked to appoint one contact person in order to streamline communication. This is who you should speak to if you would like more information than the patient is able to provide. If family dynamics are challenging or the person;s situation is complicated, a family meeting can be organized with the healthcare team.
Limit visitors to a few at a time. Speak softly in the room and hallways so you don't disturb patients who are resting. Exercise good judgment when it comes to bringing children, and ensure adult supervision at all times.
If the patient is safely able to walk or transfer into a wheelchair, visit outside the room – perhaps in the visitors' lounge on the ward or in the main floor lobby or coffee shop.
Be prepared that a healthcare professional may ask you to leave the patient;s room in order to provide care or conduct an assessment or test.
Keep the visit short if the person is low on energy.
Ensure before you leave that the patient's call bell, telephone, bedside table and any mobility aids are within reach.
Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in health and elder care issues.