25 practical applications

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

  1. Visiting someone who is sick is only a mitzvah if the patient desires visitors. Never automatically assume that the patient wants to have visitors.
  2. When the patient, family or physician says don’t visit, please obey their wishes – don’t visit.
  3. Bikur Cholim can be accomplished in many ways besides a visit, including calling, davening, writing letters, helping with errands, and providing meals.
  4. 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.
  5. To avoid Chillul Hashem, make sure a visit complies with the hospital visiting regulations.

The Visit

  1. When planning a visit, offer rides to those who regularly visit the patient, and offer to bring specific items needed by the choleh.
  2. Do not pay a Bikur Cholim visit when you are pressured or rushed – the patient can sense your tension.
  3. Never enter a patient’s room without quietly knocking, or asking the nurse to make sure it is okay to go in.
  4. Never, ever, disturb a resting or sleeping patient, unless you are specifically told by the patient to wake them.
  5. If there are two or more patients in a room, greet the other patients and wish them well.
  6. Never sit on a patient’s bed, never reads the charts, and leave the room immediately if requested to do so.
  7. Never enter areas or rooms that are off limits to visitors. Don’t look into other rooms as you stroll the halls.
  8. Never overstay your welcome. A good rule of thumb – the sicker the patient, the shorter the visit.
  9. When other visitors enter, unless you likewise just arrived, take this as an indication that you should leave.

Discussions While Visiting

  1. Silence is not always golden. But it is far better than saying the wrong thing.
  2. 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.
  3. I would strongly suggest not inundating the patient with tales of woe as part of a misguided attempt to commiserate.
  4. Never prove or ask too personal a question unless you are absolutely certain you should.
  5. Sick people are people too. Ask about their children, their interests, and what you can specifically do to help.
  6. Please resist the temptation to criticized the care physician/hospital/medication that the patient is receiving.
  7. After your brief visit is over, wish them a Refuah Sheleimah, re-offer specific assistance, and then leave.
  8. When you leave, thank the nurses and staff for the care they are providing. *
  9. Never speak with the physician without the patient’s expressed permission.
  10. Never ask physician friends of the patient to provide you with inside details and results of tests.
  11. 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.