Basic Hospital Etiquette: What Should I Know?

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A few years ago, I was hospitalized for a surgical procedure which gave me a whole new perspective on this issue. While I had already been practicing some of the principles introduced here, I became very aware of the need to further address the lack of dignity and privacy. Wearing minimal clothing, lying in a bed with unfamiliar people moving around, and needles, needles, needles, combined to keep me on edge. That doesn’t even account for the hospital room door that hardly ever stayed shut. I realized that I never fully understood these issues as a visitor.

By observing a few simple things, you can be the best prepared hospital minister your flock has ever had.

Always knock on the door, even if it is open.
      • Knocking conveys respect.
      • Knocking gives them a moment to prepare or cover themself.
      • Knocking conveys professional courtesy to medical personnel who may be in the room.

HIPAA laws have caused doctors and nurses to be especially careful when treating a patient or discussing medical issues in front of others.  If a medical professional is giving treatment, I usually step outside until he or she indicates that their interaction is complete, unless the patient requests that I stay.

Direct your attention to the patient.
        • Make eye contact and smile.
        • Avoid extended conversations with other people in the room.
        • Avoid glances at their form or affected area, covered or uncovered.
        • Avoid long looks at the medical equipment.
Stand relaxed and easy.
        • Taking a seat can often put you out of easy line of sight.
        • Relax. If you are tense, they will likely sense it.
        • Remember that you are here to minister to them.
Do not under ANY circumstance sit on the hospital bed, even if invited to do so.
        • There may be instruments or tubes hidden beneath the covers.
        • The patient may experience pain because of bed movement. (Ooops, I’m sorry, doesn’t fix it.)
        • If invited closer, step alongside the head of the bed to pray or converse softly.
If your patient is out the room, ALWAYS leave a card with a short note on the back.
        • Your kind note will be read many times over. Make it heartfelt.
        • If you do not have a card handy, ask for a piece of note paper at the nurse’s station.

By eliminating the social awkwardness already experienced by your patient, you have a greater opportunity to minister to them!  When they cease to be so keenly self-conscious, you have done your job well!  Set them at ease and then use your SLIPPR, as referred to in “How to Make a Meaningful Hospital Visit in 10 Minutes or Less.”

Please share your observations and critique!  We can sharpen each other!


  1. Maston,
    Thanks for all this helpful information. I especially appreciate your advice concerning the HIPAA laws.

    I do have a further question regarding hospital visits- How do you know when to leave? During the hospital visits that I have taken, I have found this particular issue to be a tricky issue for me. On the one hand, it seems like having visitors would really be tiring for the patient. On the other hand, a hospital room is very boring and lonely and visitors certainly can help. Are there any general rules or guidelines that help you in this area?

    • Trey,
      Thanks for posting the question!

      I’m not sure that there is a “one-size-fits-all” answer. I can only share my opinion on the issue. The length of time that I stay with the patient is determined by the depth of my relationship outside of the hospital. If my personal experience with the patient is minimal, I keep close to the principles outlined in the post, “How to Make a Meaningful Hospital visit in 10 Minutes or Less.” In these cases, my purpose for the visit is to remind them that God is aware of their circumstance and pray for them. I do not view their hospitalization as the time nor place to initiate lengthy discussions in an attempt to build a meaningful relationship. There will be time for that once they are healthy again. The exception to this is if THE PATIENT requests that you stay a little longer or if they express the need to talk further. Even then, watch for obvious signs of fatigue or pain. They may be too ambitious for their own good.

      In the event that the patient is a close personal friend, I am much more flexible. If I have a long history and deep friendship, I will be more likely to spend extended time with them. I am less concerned with following the model because I know the individual. I still am careful to express love and concern and to pray for their healing. The tricky part even in this visit is to not exceed their ability to enjoy it. Fatigue, pain, emotional distress, money, and/or family problems may overwhelm them. It is better to self-limit the visit than to leave realizing that you overstayed what was beneficial. Besides, it never hurts to leave them wanting a bit more. It sets up the anticipation for your next visit.

      Those are my thoughts. Anyone else have an opinion?

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