Tips For Visiting a Sick Friend In The Hospital

How To Be a Good Hospital Visitor

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Visiting a Hospitalized Patient. Image: © Getty Images

Visiting a sick friend or family members is such a simple thing, you may not think there is anything you need to know. It seems simple, your friend is sick and you, as a good friend or family member, should surely visit them in the hospital, right? Not so fast.

Visiting a sick person is not as simple as it may seem. Sick people are often not themselves. They may be feeling very ill, they may be heavily medicated, they may be nauseous and they are likely to be very tired.

On top of all of that, they may not be in their room.

Use your common sense, be polite and respectful of the person you are visiting, and you will be a visitor your sick friend wants to see again.

Some helpful hints on visiting your sick friend and family members:

Limit Your Visit To Twenty Minutes

Twenty minutes may not seem very long, but plan for your visit to end promptly at the twenty minute mark unless the patient invites you to stay longer. Being hospitalized is exhausting and staying awake to entertain visitors can be draining. If the patient is very sick, the staff may only allow one or two visitors at a time for a short period of time.

Intensive care areas often have strict guidelines about visitation, hours when visitation is allowed and how many people may visit at one time. These patients are the sickest and need rest, so visitors often find that when their loved one is feeling better and no longer in the ICU that visitation rules are more relaxed.


If your friend is up and moving and wants to play a game of chess, that's great, but never assume that you should stay longer than a brief visit unless you are invited to do so.

Never Wake a Sleeping Patient

The patient's job is to rest and get well as quickly as possible. The nurse and other staff may need to wake a sleeping patient, but there is never a need for a visitor to do so.

Waking the patient for visitors, phone calls or any reason that does not directly pertain to their health care is not only inappropriate, it is rude. Respect the patient's need for sleep, which is often difficult to obtain in the hospital setting. 

Observe Quiet Hours

Many facilities have designated quiet hours.  These hours are meant to provide rest for the patient, and provide an opportunity for a nap.  If you are visiting these hours, be sure to allow the patient to sleep when they feel the need. 

Avoid Topics of Conversation That Are Upsetting

If discussions of politics with the patient usually end up with shouting, it makes sense that those discussions should be avoided until the patient is back in fighting form. The same is true of conversations about money, or any other topic that may be distressing to the patient. Avoid these conversations, unless they are absolutely essential, until a more appropriate time.

In some cases, upsetting conversations cannot be avoided. A patient who has a serious diagnosis must be told, even though the information may be upsetting and distressing. In rare circumstances, the decision may be made to withhold information from a very sick patient until they are more stable.

For example, a patient who is injured badly in a car accident may not be told immediately that a passenger was gravely injured.

Don't Assume You Will Be Allowed To Visit

It is possible that you may arrive at the hospital only to find that visitors are being restricted completely. This decision may be made by the physician providing care, the nursing staff, the patient, or the patient's next of kin. In all cases, the decision to minimize or restrict visitors is never made lightly, and it is essential that the restriction be respected. Doing otherwise may result in security being called.

Flowers, Candy and Other Gifts

It is a rare person who doesn't enjoy receiving presents, but it is important to know that not all gifts are welcome in hospitals. Some patients will be restricted from receiving fresh flowers and fresh fruit, especially those who are receiving treatment for cancer. Other patients may have strict guidelines on what they are allowed to eat and will not be able to accept gifts of food.

It is much safer to bring a gift that will help the patient pass the time more comfortably. That may mean a book, a crossword puzzle, magazines, or even a new bathrobe or blanket.

Don't Be Nosy

As a general rule, if you have to ask what is wrong with the person you are visiting, it isn't any of your business. Don't put a friend in a position of having to tell you that they have been experiencing an embarrassing problem. Many people would prefer not to discuss the exact nature of their rectal problem, vaginal issue or life-threatening battle with cancer.

When your friend is ready to talk about their particular issue, they will do so, but until that time be sure to respect their need for privacy.

Don't Eat the Patient's Food

Hospital food is not typically seen as a gourmet treat, but that doesn't keep visitors from snitching food off of a patient's tray. The patient is provided a tray because they need food, not to provide for guests. The nursing staff may be monitoring what is left on the tray to determine if the patient's nutritional needs are being met.

Medications are often mixed into the patient's food in order to make it easier to swallow. Taking pudding or applesauce from a tray may mean that you are also taking the medication the doctor prescribed for the patient.

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Don't Assume That the Patient Can Have Whatever They Ask For

Just because a patient asks for a glass of water doesn't mean they should be given one. The same is true of food and medication. Before honoring the patient's request, be sure that they are allowed to have what they are asking for. The nurse caring for the patient should be able to tell you if a glass of water is acceptable, or likely to cause harm.

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Don't Untie Restraints

When you walk into a room and you see your grandmother, or someone else you care about very much, with their hands tied to the rails of their bed, it is natural to want to untie them. What you must remember is that people are only restrained in a hospital for one of two reasons: to protect themselves or to protect others from harm.

Untying the restraints of a patient without the express permission of the physician who ordered them can result in harm to the patient or others.

Don't Visit If You Are Sick

If you have the flu or a cold, be considerate and refrain from spreading your illness to a hospital full of patients. If you must visit, be sure to wash your hands frequently and, if appropriate, wear a mask to cover your mouth and nose.

Don't Be Stinky

Refrain from wearing perfume, strongly scented hair products or skin products like lotion when visiting the hospital. Don't smoke a cigarette immediately before visiting a hospital. Strong scents can make people feel nauseous, trigger respiratory issues such as an asthma attack, and make people sneeze. Sneezing might not seem like a big deal, but it can be extremely painful to sneeze with a new surgical incision.

Wash Your Hands

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and good hand washing technique is the best preventative medicine around. Taking the time to wash your hands thoroughly before visiting a sick friend is one of the most courteous and thoughtful things you can do.

Preventing an infection is serious business in a hospital, so doing your share during your visit is very important.


The Good Hospital Visitor - What Not to Do When Visiting Patients. Disabled World. Accessed December, 2011.

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