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Etiquette column: Ask before you visit a patient in the hospital

Friday, September 21, 2012 - 12:01 am

Times may have changed, but courtesy never goes out of style. In today's world sometimes it's complicated to figure out how to do the right thing. Local etiquette expert Karen Hickman answers your questions or helps solve your dilemmas on Fridays in The News-Sentinel and at

Q. Karen, I have a friend who is in the hospital and is pretty sick. However, I am not sure if I should visit her or not. What's the etiquette of visiting people in the hospital?

A. These days, because so many procedures are done on an outpatient basis it seems when people do get hospitalized they are dealing with something fairly serious. So, a good rule of thumb is to ask the patient or a close family member if it is okay to visit. There are people who will welcome some company and others who will not. It is important to respect the wishes of the person who is hospitalized.

If you do visit, there are some things to keep in mind:

•Make sure you are healthy before visiting a sick person in the hospital.

•Keep your visits short unless you have been specifically asked to stay longer.

•If you want to take flowers, make sure they are allowed. Some areas do not allow flowers.

•Magazines and books are often welcome if the patient is up to reading.

•Take food based on the patient's diet.

•Don't ask too many questions about the patient's condition. Let the patient share what he or she wants to share.

•Keep your voice down and remember you are not there for a party.

•Don't sit on the patient's bed.

•Don't use the patient's bathroom.

•Step out of the room when physicians visit or when nurses need to check the patient.

•Wash your hands before and after the visit.

A good time to visit may be after the patient goes home. Check to see if you can run errands or bring food for the family. Having a loved one in the hospital can be very tiring for the family. They may need a visit more than the patient.

Karen Hickman is a certified etiquette/protocol consultant and owner of Professional Courtesy LLC. Do you have a question for her? Email, and we’ll forward it to her.