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How to make a hospital visit beneficial to patientsí recoverycomment (0)

June 6, 2013

By Anna Keller

How to make a hospital visit beneficial to patientsí recovery

It’s an all too common announcement from the pulpit: hearing that a fellow church member has been hospitalized. The reasons can differ — sometimes it’s a planned surgical procedure, other times it’s the result of an accident, occasionally it can be due to the flare-up of a chronic condition — but in all cases a hospital visit would be an appropriate response. However, there are a few things to consider before embarking on a hospital visit that can help make both the visitor and the patient’s experiences more fulfilling.

First of all, start with a little self-evaluation, advised Gary Yarbrough, director of pastoral care at Shelby Baptist Medical Center, who has been in hospital chaplaincy since 1996.

“Take a spiritual, emotional and mental check as a visitor before entering the patient’s room,” Yarbrough said. “Just as you don’t want to spread physical germs, you don’t want to spread spiritual or emotional germs that might interfere with a patient’s recovery. Don’t talk about what went wrong with the worship service or things like that. Leave those germs outside the room so when you meet the patient everything is clear and open and you can acknowledge God.”

One thing to keep in mind as a visitor is bravery, he added. Don’t pry, but also don’t be afraid to ask someone how he or she is truly feeling. Observe nonverbal messages — such as tears — and ask about the cause. Inquire about specific prayer requests. And if conversation doesn’t flow naturally, it’s OK to just be there. 

Regina Yarbrough, chief nursing officer at Princeton Baptist Medical Center, added, “Touch is very powerful, and sometimes people are more comfortable picking up someone’s hand and saying, ‘Can I pray for you?’” 

“You have to look at the whole person and try to meet all of their needs, but it’s important to just be honest and if you can’t think of anything to say, you don’t have to say anything,” she said. “Sometimes just being with a patient for five minutes is all it takes.”

Timing in general is critical to keep in mind, Regina Yarbrough noted. Though visits can be immensely therapeutic, patients also tend to tire quite quickly, so don’t stay too long. 

“Call ahead and see if it’s a good time to visit,” she suggested. “You don’t want to interfere with the patient’s plan of care. Patients will usually try to entertain guests and be hospitable even if they’re tired, so it’s always good to call in advance and not overstay your welcome.”

Chaplain Jim Williams, head of chaplaincy for Baptist Health in Montgomery, added, “Be aware of how you’re getting ready to go to the hospital, and remember that it’s not like you’d prepare to go to a typical social event. 

“Strong scents — aftershave and perfumes — can also be unpleasant to patients,” he said. 

The prevalence of technology — and especially social media — has added another layer to hospital visitation, Williams said. 

Now people can update statuses or send emails quickly and easily, but it’s important to remember that the patient may not want his or her medical issues to be shared through these outlets. 

Be sure to ask what a patient is comfortable with others knowing before releasing their personal information in any form or fashion.

And for those who can’t visit patients while they’re in the hospital?

Cards and phone calls go a long way and mean a lot when received both in the hospital and once a patient has been released to go home, Regina Yarbrough said.

Once a patient has been sent home, it can be quite helpful to provide meals to patients and their families but also to think of additional ways to assist. 

“These days, people are in and out of the hospital so quickly, and so people leave the hospital sicker than they used to,” Williams said. “Offering to provide necessities like tissues during these times can help, or even offer to help out with something like cutting the patient’s grass while they’re not able to do that themselves.”

Most importantly, remember that a visit (or a card, phone call, etc.) truly does matter.

During his decade in the hospital ministry field, Gary Yarbrough said he continues to be amazed at the power of support when it comes to a patient’s healing. Whether it’s through a physical visit or via an outlet such as a phone call or card, knowing people care goes a long way.

“There’s no substitute for someone’s family of faith,” he said. “From time to time I’ll ask a patient what’s getting them through, and without fail they tell me, ‘Faith, family and friends,’ almost like it’s a primal script.”


Visiting Tips

Going to the hospital to visit a friend or loved one? Here are some tips:

1. Plan ahead. Call the patient or a family member to determine the most convenient time for you to visit. Surprises typically aren’t a good idea in these instances.

2. Follow hospital guidelines. Be aware of regulations that are in place. If you see a sign instructing visitors to wear gloves, be sure to do so before your visit.

3. Don’t share information. Keep privacy and confidentiality in mind, and don’t share any medical information unless you’ve received specific permission from the patient to do so.

4. Listen up. This visit is about the patient — not you — so pay attention to what he or she is sharing with you.

5. Be aware of the whole person. True, you’re visiting the patient because of a physical ailment, but don’t neglect his or her emotional, mental or spiritual needs in the process.

6. Help out. Before you leave, ask the patient if there’s anything you can do for him or her before you go. 

(Anna Keller)

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