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Hospital Etiquette: How Family Members Can Provide The Best Support For Patients 
by Lee Ann Sontheimer Murphy September 02, 2005

When the inevitable happens and a family member is hospitalized, you can observe hospital etiquette to maximize the experience for the patient, the staff, and yourself.

Anyone who has ever had a loved one spend an extended period in the hospital is familiar with hospital etiquette. Although many health care facilities no longer have set visiting hours, there are still rules and expectations for the family members who wait through a surgery, for a newborn to arrive, or have someone in an ICU Unit. Whether a sudden illness, accident, or chronic condition brings someone into the hospital, gathering together to wait is often standard procedure for most families.

Basic Knowledge For While You Wait

Hospitals normally have special waiting areas set aside for the families of patients. Depending on the size of the facility there may be separate waiting rooms for ICU families, for OB families, for surgery, and for other areas of the hospital. Small hospitals may combine one area into waiting for more than one procedure, i.e. a surgery and ICU waiting room may be one and the same.

Such rooms normally offer both telephone and television, magazines, couches and chairs. Often a restroom is adjacent. Some may provide hot coffee or other beverages. Increasing numbers will provide hand sanitizer dispensers on the walls of waiting rooms, restrooms, and patient rooms. It's wise to use the sanitizer to prevent carrying disease into or out from the hospital. Vending machines are often found nearby so carry a pocket of changes or small bills to get change. Most hospitals fill vending machines with fruit juices and bottled water in addition to soft drinks. Some vending machines may even offer fresh salads, sandwiches, or microwavable items that may include soups, pocket sandwiches, or fruit bowls.

Many facilities also will offer an in-house cafeteria on the lower floors with hot meals and sandwiches. Even smaller institutions may offer meals during limited hours. Gift shops where fresh or silk flowers, balloons, cards, and other items can be bought are also common.

Remember that waiting rooms are to be shared. It's likely that families will share the facilities with others so remember to be patient and polite. Don't abuse telephone privileges by hogging the phone - others may need to use it. Keep television volumes at acceptable levels - the sound may be grating to worried family members and could carry down adjacent hallways to bother patients. If seating space is limited, suggest that some family members visit the cafeteria, seek out another waiting room, or take time to visit the chapel if one is on site.

Hospitals are quiet zones so use low voices and avoid wearing anything but soft soled footwear. Bring as little as possible along - a book if it helps to pass the time, or a crossword puzzle - but don't spread a project over common surfaces. Don't carry a large amount of items into the facility. It makes for more to keep track of later and items left may unfortunately be lost or even stolen. Don't bring large amounts of money along or valuables. Remove any valuables (including wedding rings, watches, money, billfolds, or other items) from the patient upon admission.

Although most facilities allow beverages into waiting areas, ask to make certain. Some areas - such as emergency - may forbid any food or drink. Don't carry meals into the waiting areas but visit the in-house cafeteria or snack bar or leave the building to grab a bite. Never bring food or drink into a patient room without checking with nursing staff to make sure it is allowed. By the same token, don't offer a patient food or drink unless it has been approved by someone in authority, preferably the doctor.



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