[For Pastors] How to Prepare for an Effective Hospital Visit: the 4 Questions to Ask

I stack most of my annual vacation into June, taking off 4 Sundays in a row every summer. During those weeks, I am pretty much off the grid.

It is a break I look forward to every year, not only because I tend to be spent by late May every year but also because I anticipate how refreshed I'll be upon my return.

It is good for me and good for the church that I take an extended break for physical, emotional, and spiritual renewal.

You know you are in a good spot when by the end of a vacation you are like a horse in the gate, bucking for the doors to open so that you can run.

Although I'm out of pocket for an entire month, most folks don't schedule surgeries around my vacation. This means that elders and others need to be equipped to visit overnight hospital patients in our congregation. Of course, this should not only be a summer thing for elders and isn't limited to "official" leaders, but the need for pastoral care training seems to be more acute this time of year when I'm gone.

Which leads to something I discussed with my elder team at our last meeting.

What does a "hospital visit" look like? What should I say when I open the door and walk in. 

It can be an awkward moment, especially if you do not know the person well.

What we need to remember up front when thinking about "doing" a hospital visit is that we don't "do" visits to check them off a list. They are not tasks to complete; they are people to love.

That really is our goal when visiting someone in the hospital. We want to love them well. But sometimes we need help with practical love.

At least I do.

So, how can I love them well when I walk in the door? 

A template of 4 question may help you. They help me.

4 Questions

Again, if the patient is a good friend, you don't need a template of questions. But if you don't know them that well, these 4 questions can help frame your visit. 

1. What happened? 

This may be obvious, but just in case you really don't know. Ask. They may get specific or they may be intentionally vague. Either way, let them share what they feel comfortable sharing and don't press for details. You are there as a friend to care not a physician to cure. 🙂 

Next, ask... 

2. How are you feeling? 

This will take the conversation in one of two directions. The are feeling better. "Great!" Maybe they are feeling worse? Either way, it sets up the following question.

3. What is the next step? 

Here, the person we are visiting either is on the way to being discharged or being held for observation, prepped for tests, and/or maybe even a surgical procedure. Whichever it is, their answer provides the content for the last question. 

4. May I pray with you? 

If they are about to be released, give thanks. If they are headed toward the uncertainty of tests and operations, ask for the Lord to guide the physicians. Pray for healing and recovery. For peace in the midst of fear. Pray the gospel, thanking God that Jesus knows suffering and that his was for our eternal healing of our worst possible sickness. In Jesus, we are well, forgiven, and loved.

If possible and appropriate, put your hand on their shoulder or hold their hand if possible as you pray. As Jesus shows us on many occasions, personal touch is a powerful thing. 

After praying, leave a card or some way they may contact you if necessary and let them know you will be thinking about them.

Post-Visit Follow Up 

Be sure to check back by phone or with a relative over the next day or two. Using the same template (questions 2-4) is fine with follow-up, too. 

Okay, that is the simple 4 question template to use when making a hospital visit. 

Hope it helps guide your time so that you don't have to stumble through what can be a very meaningful time for you and the patient.

How have you experienced hospital visits, whether are the patient or one visiting? What was helpful? I'd love to hear more suggestions on how to love well with this context of shepherding care?

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