The Importance of Visitors

After a trip to the emergency room and multiple surgeries, my grandpa spent twenty-five days in the hospital this summer. Healthy as ever and seventy-three years old, he was diagnosed with stage II colon cancer. My mom and I visited him often, sifting through the hospital chaos and confusing hallways every day in order to be there during the doctor’s rounds. All of it was sudden and so much of it was unclear. We had so many questions, yet we often could not think of one to ask when we were prompted. The communication was not always straightforward. All I could think about was how we had a room full of people trying to interpret the doctor’s explanations, and even then we were sure there was information flying over our heads. So what did that mean for patients who were in the hospital alone, without visitors to act as a second set of ears and catch whatever information they might miss?

What is striking about hospitals is that there are so many people rushing around to complete their jobs. A million people came in to tend to my grandpa during the day, administering I.V. fluids, handing him small plastic cups of pills to take, checking his blood sugar levels before every meal, listening to his complaints about the bad hospital food, and so on. Everyone had a job to do, and they often did it without explanation or acknowledgment.

It is a widely known assertion that hospital patients experience quicker recovery time and decreased length of stay when they have regular visitors. There are many possible reasons for this, including anything from a visitor’s ability to raise the morale of their loved one, to the idea that visitors often demand greater care for the patients. Having someone to advocate for the patient, to follow up on forgotten lab work or communicate certain information that is important for the healthcare provider to know, is a luxury that not all patients receive.

There is a phenomenon called the Hawthorne effect, which claims that people perform better at simple tasks when others are watching them. For example, individuals tend to follow the standard hand-washing procedure much more closely when there is another person in the room with them. The Hawthorne effect can be applied to the world of healthcare where, perhaps, patients receive better care when their family members are watching over the room with a critical eye. This is not to say that healthcare providers are intentionally less precise without the scrutiny of visitors, or to accuse them of slacking off on the job when there is no one there to hold them accountable. However, it is important to note that visitors tend to have a positive effect on a patient’s outcome.

Not only do visitors demand accountability from health care providers, but they also serve to advocate for the patient’s needs. During the four weeks that my grandpa was in the hospital, I wondered and worried about the patients who did not have visitors to stand by their side and ask for what was needed when they were unable to. Many people are unaware of the significance of visitors in determining the outcome of healthcare. It is important to remember that another visitor is not just another visitor; they are also another person to absorb information, another person to inquire about uncertainties, another person to communicate with healthcare providers, and another person to bring smiles and laughter to the patient’s room.

 

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