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!

4 Reasons Why You CAN Make Hospital Visit to Someone You Have Never Met

Have you ever been called upon to make a hospital visit to someone you have never met? Spending a few moments in the hospital with a friend or family member is a loving thing to do, but how quickly do you respond when asked to visit someone you have never seen? After mastering a few basic concepts, great hospital visits with anyone will become another useful tool in your ministry bag.

Even before I became a pastor, I made countless hospital visits.  The vast majority of these visits were to people I knew well.  I walked past hundreds of needy strangers to find them.  One particular afternoon I stepped onto an elevator and was enclosed with a couple who were in obvious distress.  I simply asked if I might pray with them.  That afternoon, as I reflected upon our elevator prayer meeting, I realized that there were some observations worth noting.

1.  Most people in the hospital are hurting in one way or another.

Whether they are the patient or family member, they are in need of comfort and reassurance.  They are vulnerable whether they wish to admit it or not.  A simple act of kindness is magnified in the presence of distress.  You can be confident in offering a kind word or a prayer, knowing that it is as needed as a doctor’s prescription.

2.  A brief introduction and genuine concern is all it takes to make a friend.

“Pardon me, ma’am. My name is Maston Jackson, pastor of Next Street Corner Church.  I couldn’t help but overhear that you are having a hard time right now.  Would you mind if I prayed with you?”

Some pointers for a good introduction:

  • Be polite
  • Keep your voice low and soft
  • Identify yourself clearly
  • Express sympathy without being nosy (do not ask for details)
  • Offer to pray with them
  • Give them the ability to decline without a negative connotation

3.  This moment of ministry is NOT about you.

Lay aside your feelings of insecurity.  These people are focused on their own pain.  You will seldom have interaction with people who are less interested in your shortcomings.  A man facing surgery does not care how much money you make nor does he care on which side of town you live.  The parent of a sick child has no interest in how many times you have been a bad mom or dad.  Victims of a tornado do not care who the Good Samaritans are if they are helping.

4.  You are an Ambassador of Heaven.

Though you may have never met, you are not a stranger. You represent God, who loves these hurting people dearly.  He knows them well.  Act and speak with the tenderness of a loving brother. You never know what doors may be opening for future interaction.  Focus the love of God like a laser beam through the lens of your kind touch.

Anyone can make a hospital visit with someone they have never met.  More importantly, it is healthy for you to lay aside your own issues as you reach out to others.  You just have to be respectful of their circumstances and remember that the Father in Heaven has arranged this meeting.

Have you had an experience making a hospital visit to someone you have never met?  I’d love to hear about it!


How to Make a Meaningful Hospital Visit in 10 Minutes or Less

I find that hospital visits can be some of the most challenging yet rewarding opportunities for ministry.  The few minutes that I get to spend with those who are hospitalized is a reminder to them of God’s love and the power of his healing hand.  While this ministry is necessary and crucial to the life of the local church, it is by its very nature time consuming.

If several patients are located in multiple hospitals spread across the city, the drive time alone can turn into hours.  I had to find a way to make the best use of the time in the hospital room. Here is one way to make a meaningful hospital visit in 10 minutes or less.

  • A 10 minute hospital visit begins with a phone call. Good information can save you a lot of time. If you work with an assistant, have him/her call the hospital ahead of time and verify that the person you are going to see is still there and the room number. A text message or email to your phone with that information is invaluable.  If you operate better with pen and paper, make a note of some kind.  I can promise you that phone calls during the drive to the hospital will mess with your memory.
  • Familiarize yourself with the hospital layout. This is one of the things that I accomplish as quickly as possible upon arrival in a new city. You do not want to be confused with directions to the hospital, where to park, or which entrance will be put closest to the Unit where you are needed at 2 o’clock in the morning. At 2 a.m., the news will not be good and you had better get there quickly.
  • Remember your SLIPPR (pronounced “slipper”)
  • Sympathize – Express your heartfelt concern for their condition.

    “I am so sorry to hear of your illness, injury, surgery, etc.”

    “We have already been praying for you.”

    Listen – Give them an opportunity to tell you what they wish to tell. Depending upon the person, this may be detailed or incredibly brief.

    In any case, listening well is listening intently. Most people can tell when you are somewhere else in your head. Listening says, “I genuinely care.”

    Inquire Ask a couple of clarifying questions. It will help you remember but it will also help them be confident that you are listening.

    Ask if there are any needs or concerns that you or others might fulfill. Ask about their condition, how they are feeling, or if they know when they will be dismissed to go home if they have not already told you.

    Pray – Express your thanks to God for them.

    Detail in prayer your appreciation for them and what they mean to you personally.  Ask God to heal and bless them.

    Plan – Give them an idea of when, where, or how you will be in contact again.

    “Would you please give us a call in office if you are dismissed today? Otherwise I’ll see you tomorrow, Tuesday, in the morning, etc.”

    Leave them looking forward to another visit.

    Report – Call your assistant as you leave and give him/her any information that may need to be forwarded to others. This call also facilitates timely update of the Church Prayer List.

Do you have a technique that has served you well? I want to hear about it!