Hospital Visitation guidelines for pastors and leaders

hospital visit

As a church, we are developing a guideline for our leaders, when they visit a hospital. Many of these suggestions were taken from several publications, and its a working document. Any suggestions, as we finalize this?     


When we think of ministry, we often think of the words of Jesus in the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Jesus, however, also said something about caring for the sick. In relating the final judgment of the nations, Jesus said of the righteous, “I was sick and you looked after me” (Matthew 25:36).

*People will forget whether or not a pastor came to their birthday party or wedding. But, they’ll remember if he comes to visit them in the hospital, or to a loved one’s funeral.


  1. Pray before you arrive.
  2. Have a plan (but don’t expect to use it). Don’t just assume you’ll think of a story from the bible, or will come up with a scripture.
  3. Understand HIPAA: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act places severe restrictions on information that can be disclosed about a patient’s medical record. A patient will have a list of people who can know about his condition. There might be a benefit of getting on that list, if the patient doesn’t have close family members.
  4. Don’t obstruct the flow. Doctors will be coming in and out – get out of their way. Medical people enter to do a procedure from time to time; it is best to exit.  If a therapist is coming for therapy, etc, they will often give you 3 minutes to pray if you ask.
  5. Keep it short! Visit for ten minutes or so, less if the person is in discomfort. People don’t realize how exhausting it is to be a patient. Between medicines, therapies, and other visitors, many patients are too tired to talk.
  6. Be sensitive, but not timid. Don’t avoid the pressing conversations about surgery or a serious diagnosis. Also, assess the depth of conversation. Ask yourself, Is this a time to address fears? Is this a good time to be silent? Look into their eyes to see their heart, to see if they’re tired or scared.
  7. Lend a healing touch. A pastor’s touch can represent some of the only non-clinical contact a patient receives. Jesus touched the sick and dying. Take a hand while praying or reading Scripture. Before you initiate any kind of touch, however, ask permission. You do not want to interfere with IV’s, etc. and you don’t want to spread germs to a person whose immune system might be compromised (don’t touch nor visit the patient if you are sick).
  8. Don’t rush out the door. Be sensitive to certain situations when it is best to stay longer—when the patient has few visitors, needs practical help, or clearly desires the counsel of a pastor. Feel free to sit in silence, too. What you say isn’t really important. Your presence matters more than anything. Don’t give them false hope, but do express that they are needed and that you are praying for them.
  9. Remember the family. Don’t overlook the family that is waiting around. They often require similar pastoral care. Visit at least once while the family is there and share your desire to serve them, too.
  10. Do not sit on the bed
  11. Mealtimes happen. Cut your visit short (less than 5 minutes) if the person is eating (unless they are nearly done); you might offer to come back in 15 minutes.
  12. Bedpan issues can be embarrassing; if someone says they need to go, get out of there; do not make them cringe. If the curtains are drawn as you enter the room, ask a nurse if it is okay to go on that side of the room.
  13. Do not visit if you have a cold or contagious condition. A phone call is better in such cases. A patient’s health is more important.
  14. Avoid being a medical know-it-all and do not put down a patient’s doctors.
  15. If the door is closed, check at the nurse’s station before entering: someone may be on the bedpan or receiving a bath or change of dressing.
  16. Watch for cues from the patient that might indicate you need to leave.
  17. Call the hospital prior to your visit to determine if the patient is well enough for a visit and what would be a good time. Stop at the nursing station and introduce yourself. Knock on the patient’s door and wait to be invited in.
  18. Be wise about what you take into the room. Candy (which the patient cannot eat) and big fruit baskets (that are off-limits) may do more harm than good to the patient. What is appropriate to bring?


1. Don’t be insulted by a patient’s words and attitudes or register shock at a patient’s appearance.

2. Don’t offer false optimism about a patient’s recovery or participate in criticism about the doctor, hospital, or treatment.

3. Don’t touch equipment even if requested by the patient, or sit on the patient’s bed.

4. Don’t tell the patient unpleasant news including your troubles.

5. Don’t whisper when talking to relatives or medical staff in the patient’s room.

6. Don’t break hospital rules or violate confidentiality issues.

7. Don’t awaken a sleeping patient unless the nurse approves.

8. Don’t help patients get out of bed or give food or drink without the nurse’s approval.

9. Don’t assume a comatose patient cannot hear.

Good scriptures to read:

Psalm 86, Psalm 27, Isaiah 40:28-31, Philippians 4:4-9, others?

If patient is near death:

  1. Ask if they have a will
  2. Ask if there is anything they want you to mention to family during memorial service
  3. Ask if there is anything special that they want for her/his memorial service
  4. Ask if there is anything on their heart, that they need to release/share/confess

Anointing with Oil

James 5:13-16 Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

The Lord’s Supper for sick/elderly

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

One thought on “Hospital Visitation guidelines for pastors and leaders

  1. Looks good… 1 suggestion: I would recommend putting the “suggestions” list in a more specific order. Group together the “suggestions” for before you arrive at the hospital, and for once you are there. (Ex. #’s 1, 2, 3, 17, 18) These #’s should have a separate heading “Before you arrive” or just renumber 17 & 18 to # 4 & 5 so all the suggestions for before you go to the hospital are together.

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