Reproduced from “Visiting the Sick” by Rabbi Aaron Glatt, MD with permission of the copyright holders, Artscroll/Mesorah Publications, Ltd.
The following are practical Bikur Cholim guidelines, based upon my experiences as a physician caring for patients for nearly 25 years, and also as a Rabbi. These rules are designed for visitors but often are applicable to all who are involved with the choleh on a day-to-day basis; in all instances, common sense must always prevail. By following these practical halachic guidelines, may we be zoche to see all sick people merit a refuah sheleimah from Hashem.
Preparing for the Visit
- Visiting someone who is sick is only a mitzvah if the patient desires visitors. Never automatically assume that the patient wants to have visitors.
- When the patient, family or physician says don’t visit, please obey their wishes – don’t visit.
- Bikur Cholim can be accomplished in many ways besides a visit, including calling, davening, writing letters, helping with errands, and providing meals.
- If possible, one who is very sick should appoint a family member or close friend to be the contact person for visitors, well-wishers and friends.
- To avoid Chillul Hashem, make sure a visit complies with the hospital visiting regulations.
- When planning a visit, offer rides to those who regularly visit the patient, and offer to bring specific items needed by the choleh.
- Do not pay a Bikur Cholim visit when you are pressured or rushed – the patient can sense your tension.
- Never enter a patient’s room without quietly knocking, or asking the nurse to make sure it is okay to go in.
- Never, ever, disturb a resting or sleeping patient, unless you are specifically told by the patient to wake them.
- If there are two or more patients in a room, greet the other patients and wish them well.
- Never sit on a patient’s bed, never reads the charts, and leave the room immediately if requested to do so.
- Never enter areas or rooms that are off limits to visitors. Don’t look into other rooms as you stroll the halls.
- Never overstay your welcome. A good rule of thumb – the sicker the patient, the shorter the visit.
- When other visitors enter, unless you likewise just arrived, take this as an indication that you should leave.
Discussions While Visiting
- Silence is not always golden. But it is far better than saying the wrong thing.
- Remember that part of the purpose of the visit is to cheer up the sick person. Be prepared to tell a joke, a good story, and/or happy news.
- I would strongly suggest not inundating the patient with tales of woe as part of a misguided attempt to commiserate.
- Never prove or ask too personal a question unless you are absolutely certain you should.
- Sick people are people too. Ask about their children, their interests, and what you can specifically do to help.
- Please resist the temptation to criticized the care physician/hospital/medication that the patient is receiving.
- After your brief visit is over, wish them a Refuah Sheleimah, re-offer specific assistance, and then leave.
- When you leave, thank the nurses and staff for the care they are providing. *
- Never speak with the physician without the patient’s expressed permission.
- Never ask physician friends of the patient to provide you with inside details and results of tests.
- Always follow through on the kind offers of aid you promised to the patient or family.
* Note: Providing feedback via the patient satisfaction surveys is one of the best and easiest ways for a patient to show hakoras hatov (appreciation) to the hospital and/or to make suggestions that will enhance the experience of others. The surveys arrive in the mail shortly after discharge and are used by administration as a major driver for change in the hospitals.