Health Break | Published August 16, 2010

What You Should Consider When Visiting at the Hospital

Mount Nittany Medical Center recently opened 68 patient rooms in its recently constructed east wing. Although the rooms offer many special features for patients and visitors to have the best stay possible, it is still wise to consider whether a visit is the best thing for the patient. Here are some guidelines:

1) Consider if it is really necessary to visit the patient while they are hospitalized. Since patients today are usually not in the hospital long, they are often quite ill while there and likely to have many physician and nurses checking on them. Keep in mind how the patient might be feeling and if they would be receptive to visitors.

2) Wash your hands before visiting patients. This should be a 10-15 second vigorous scrub using plenty of soap and running water. Hand washing is considered the single most important strategy used to prevent the spread of infection. Waterless hand rinses are also acceptable.

3) DO NOT visit if you have signs or symptoms of an infection. If you are ill, you should not be visiting a patient in the Medical Center. Give the patient a call instead and plan to do something special for them after their discharge.

4) Limit the number of visitors to one or two at a time and keep visits brief. Illness can stress the immune system, making the patient more susceptible to infection. The more people the patient is exposed to, the more likely the patient is to get an infection from a visitor. You can still spread an infection to a patient, even before you show any symptoms. Keep visits short, about 15-30 minutes. Use waiting rooms for visitor overflow.

5) Respect hospital policies regarding children visitors. In general, it is difficult for children to manage their hygiene as well as adults (coughs, sneezes, hand washing, etc.) which makes them more likely to spread infectious illnesses. If children do visit, a responsible adult, other than the patient, must supervise the child at all times. No one should touch medical equipment in the patient's room or use the patient's bathroom. While seeing children can be a great mood lifter for a patient, their visit may be more appropriate when the patient is home and feeling better.

6) Respect hospital visiting hours. Patients are kept very busy with therapy, meals, tests, education and rest. A lot must be accomplished in the short time a patient is in the Medical Center. Hospital staff may ask visitors to leave briefly while attending to a patient’s needs—please honor these requests graciously. Remember that the hospital caregivers are professionals who keep a patient’s best interest in mind. Respect the guidance of physicians or nurses who may restrict visiting time, even during normal visiting hours.

7) If special visiting hours are needed, check in advance with the nurse in charge of the patient’s care. Requests can often be accommodated, but it helps the staff to know about special requests in advance.

Visitors are an important to the care of the patient and encouraged to visit when it’s in the best interest of the patient’s health. By observing the above guidelines, family and friends can help the patient feel better sooner and get home.

Marlene Stetson, RN, is the infection control and prevention coordinator at Mount Nittany Medical Center, State College, Pa.