Hospital Etiquette: Rules of Behavior and Commonly Asked Questions

Thanksgiving at my house just took a U-turn last night when my mom fell down my backdoor stairs. A trip by EMS to the ER has resulted in a scheduled surgery and a stay in the hospital on Thanksgiving Day. In honor of my mom, here are a few hospital etiquette tips. I hope her friends are reading!

Rules of behavior while visiting a friend or family member in the hospital:

1.  Stay focused on your friend’s illness.  Don’t try and one-up him or her with war stories of your own.  “You just broke your foot; I broke my whole leg once when…”

2.  No scare tactics.  Don’t talk about your aunt who went in the hospital for a one day routine procedure and ended up staying in the hospital for 6 weeks because of some medical foul up.

3.  If you visit a friend in the hospital, don’t:

  • Overuse the perfume
  • Bring food to a patient on a special diet
  • Fail to move when it is time for  your friend’s bed bath
  • Overstay your welcome
  • Eat your friend’s dinner
  • Bring small children (other than immediate family)
  • Assume your family or friend wants visitors

4. Do remember to check whether your friend or family member is on a restricted diet.

5. Give them some privacy – When the curtain closes, excuse yourself so the patient can have a sponge bath or use a bed pan in privacy.

Q & A:

What do I do when my friend acts like her sprained wrist is similar to getting run over by a train?

Respond by saying, “I guess it must feel that way” and either change the subject or offer to get your friend a glass of water.

How can I check on a sick friend or family member without becoming a pest?

Make sure to call first before coming for a visit.  Don’t drop off a plate of brownies if the patient is bed-bound.  Use good judgment and common sense and make sure and when all else fails, ask your friend “What can I do or help you with?” 

What are good hospital gifts besides flowers?

Depending on the nature of the illness, if he/she can sit up and move around:

  • Her/his favorite snack
  • House slippers
  • Antibacterial hand cream with a nice light scent
  • Noise cancelling ear plugs for the iPad to watch their favorite movie
  • Warm socks
  • Magazines or a great inspirational book

I love you, Mom! Happy Thanksgiving.


Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.


  1. Keith Streetman says

    Just had to check out the do’s and dont’s of my hospital stay. Very good tips. Keep up the good work and I’m glad to know I haven’t overstepped any boundaries.

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