Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Keys to an Effective Hospital Visit

When people are in the hospital, they are often scared, lonely, and in need of encouragement. When they receive a well timed spiritually based visit in that time of difficulty, not only does it meet their spiritual need, but a growing body of evidence also suggests that they also recover faster physically. Therefore learning how to make a good hospital visit is important for lay people who want to help their church become more effective in caring for its members.

Many lay people hesitate to make such visits because they are not sure what to say or do. By following these simple points, a visit with a hospital patient can be joyful and encouraging.

1. Do not wear cologne. Cologne can gag even healthy people and those in the hospital may be extra sensitive to smells because of the medicines they are taking.

2. Leave the gum at home. No one likes to listen to people chew and smack gum.

3. Always check with the nurse before bringing food to a patient, even if the patient asks for it. It might be a detriment to the patient’s condition if his or her diet has been restricted for medical reasons.

4. If a gift of food is taken, it is extremely rude for the person bringing the gift to eat it. Remember, it was brought for the patient and he and she cannot get any more of it once it is gone. Never eat the patient’s food from his or her tray, as the nurse may be monitoring how much has been eaten.

5. When greeting the patient, if it is physically feasible, take his or her hand gently. When people do not feel well, they often do not want to be hugged, especially if they have had surgery.

6. Be polite and stand if there are not enough chairs. Remember, the visit will only last a short time.

7. Never sit on the bed; it cramps the patient. If there is a second bed in the room, do not sit on it, even if it is not being used. The staff may have it ready for a new patient and may not have time to freshen it up before a new patient needs it.

8. Talk audibly, not too softly or too loudly. Increase volume if the patient does not seem to be able to hear while remaining mindful of other patients in the room. Sometimes, when people are sick, their minds are a bit fuzzy from pills and pain, so their hearing may be less sharp than normal.

9. Only stay a few minutes. The point of the visit is to wish the patient well, not to spend a long period of time with him or her. Extended visits often tire a patient more than he or she realizes.

10. If a gift is taken, make sure the gift is appropriate for the situation. For example, if the patient has just had eye surgery, then he or she will not be able to read a book.

11. Only talk about happy situations, not about bad news. Never talk about one’s own past illnesses or operations.

12. If there are relatives present, say a quick hello, leave your gift, wish the patient a speedy recovery, and then leave. The relatives will want quality time and privacy with the patient. Sometimes they come from quite a distance and may not be able to come back soon, but a local person from church can always return at a later time.

13. If either the nurse or doctor enters the room to do something for the patient, be polite and leave the room while they are attending the patient. Do this even if the patient says it is okay for you stay.

14. If the patient wants to go for a walk, check with the nurse first. The same would be true if the patient asks for assistance in getting out of bed or in using the bathroom.

15. If the visitor does not know how to respond to something the patient says, sometimes it is better to say nothing at all. Just express concern, offer a prayer, and graciously make a polite departure.

16. Remember that patients are in the hospital because they are sick. Use common sense, smile, and be positive during the visit. If the visitor becomes upset, they should excuse themselves until they can regain control of their own emotions. Be aware that conversations in the hall can be overheard. The whole point of visiting patients in the hospital is to cheer them up. So do not do anything to make the situation tenser than it already is.

17. Every hospital has guidelines they ask visitors to follow. Those guidelines have been put in place for safety reasons. Please be respectful of them.

18. Remember to maintain the confidentiality of those who have been visited. Do not share details of their situation without permission. Do not speculate about their future with others at church.

By following these simply guidelines, lay people can make a positive spiritually based visit to someone in the church. Such a visit can be a great encouragement to a person in the hospital.
These ideas have been adapted from a chapter in the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the
Bivocational Church. Though it was written to help bivocational pastors train leaders to work with them, many fully funded pastors and many lay people are finding it equally helpful to their own ministries.


  1. thank you, as a bivocational pastor extra help is always needed and appreciated.

  2. Great advice brother! As someone who works in the medical community and is in hospitals a lot, this is a great resource.

  3. I've been a nurse for almost 35 years. I absolutely agree with each point in this very well thought out list of guidelines, with the exception of #11. To avoid talking about bad news when spending time with someone you care about sort of makes the whole visit seem contrived. A brother or sister in Christ may be the best equipped person to offer a place of release and comfort when bad news needs to be talked about and prayed about. The temptation for the visitor is to commiserate out of experience, and the advice to avoid that, is good. Sometimes the patient needs to have the opportunity to talk about their diagnosis or prognosis without anyone saying anything at all. Often the best medicine is just to be in the presence of someone who loves you and who can take you to the Throne of Grace when you are not able.
    Terry: Thank you personally for all you do and what you mean to those who serve here in New England.

    1. Marcia,
      Thanks for sharing your insight. And yes, it is good to let the patient talk about their own bad news. I just want to make sure we don't add to it by talking about other bad stuff (ie: problems at church, bad economic news, a neighbor who died, etc.)

  4. Excellent, practical advice, Terry. May I, please, suggest one more? I was taught this in a ministry class years ago, and still use it. Wash your hands in the hallway restroom, before and after every visit. When through rinsing, take a paper towel to turn off the water, then get another towel to dry your hands. The idea is to cut down on the germs you can bring to a patient, either from outside or another patient, and, of course, for your personal health.

  5. This was a great blog Terry. Practical and helpful.

  6. And this clinical chaplain says, "nicely written sir." This will be helpful for many of you pastors.