contact precautions

What are Hospital Precaution Signs?

You go to the hospital to visit a friend. You find the room, and you are about to go in. But, “Stop!” There it is. A sign that says “For the safety of our patients, family and staff…”

And the sign says it is about some type of precaution and that everyone entering the room must follow directions listed. “Is this for me?” you wonder. “Is this just for staff? What is this about?”

Having to take precautions at a hospital can be confusing – especially if you are not familiar with healthcare settings. You might even hesitate to visit.

“But don’t let it stop you,” Sue Stiner, MSN, RN, Inpatient Dialysis, and Infection Prevention and Control director at Penn Highlands DuBois, said. “Sometimes, you will hear us call having precautions ‘isolation,’ but we still allow visitors. Often times, patients have illnesses that require doctors, nurses, staff and visitors to take special steps to help stop the spread of germs from one person to another.”

“Precautions are often used to protect a patient from exposure to things their bodies may not be able to fight off,” Beth Keth, RN, BSN, Organizational Performance Improvement and Patient Safety Officer of Penn Highlands Brookville, said. “If someone has a weakened immune system or are weak in general, they might not be able to fight off something that healthy people can. We can even carry germs on us that we might not be aware of.”

“Other precautions are taken to keep us from spreading germs a patient may have,” Rhonda Chilson RN, director of Quality Assessment and Infection Control at Penn Highlands Elk, said. “If someone is very sick, we can still be around them because we know how illnesses are spread. If we follow the directions to keep ourselves from getting sick, too, we can protect ourselves.”

What are the types of precautions requested at the hospitals? “Simple ones,” Debra Thomas, RN, BSN, MHA, chief nursing officer for Penn Highlands Clearfield and Penn Highlands Brookville, said. “They are easy to do, and they just take a few moments of our time.” Here are a few:

Use hand sanitizer or wash hands when entering or leaving a room.

“Some germs can travel with us even when we don’t expect it – think about how many times you may be touching door handles, buttons and stairway rails before you arrive at the patient’s room,” Keth said. Sanitizers are located in hallways in patient areas, and if hand-washing is a must, ask a nurse where the nearest sink is.

Wear a gown and gloves to enter the room.

“Gloves and gowns will be provided by the hospital at the doorway of patient rooms,” Thomas said. “Some are hanging on a door or are on a cart next to it. If the sign says they are to be worn, and none are available, please ask someone to get them.”

Gowns should be put on after your hands are cleaned. The openings go in the back and are usually tied securely at the neck and waist. The gown should cover your arms to your wrists.

“Gowns protect your clothes should an organism get on them. It stops the germ from being spread to the next person you come in contact with,” Chilson said. “Think about how many times in a day you bump or brush against something. It also helps keep germs that may have attached to your clothes from being spread to the patient.”

Gloves usually come in a few sizes, so choose the ones that fit. While wearing gloves, do not touch your face or wear them into the hallway.

To remove gown and gloves after visiting, take the gown off first, roll it and throw it away in the can provided at the door. Gloves come off next. Take the first one off so it turns itself inside out. Use your clean hand to hold the interior of that glove to remove the second one. Throw both away. Never re-use the gown or glove.

Wear mask.

You may be asked to wear a mask if you are not feeling well. This will keep you from spreading any germs that may travel as droplets through the air as you talk, cough, sneeze, laugh or talk. “Masks are available in many areas, including registration areas, waiting rooms and patient areas,” Stiner said.

To wear a mask, bring both top ties to the back of your head and tie into a bow. If the mask has loops, the looped strings go behind your ears. If it gets wet or soiled, get a new one. Don’t reuse it, and don’t touch the front of the mask. To dispose of a mask, only touch the mask by the strings and throw it away.

Masks are helpful in the prevention of pneumonia, the flu, whooping cough and bacterial meningitis. But please note that the common masks throughout the hospitals will not provide protection against particles that float in the air, such as measles, chickenpox or tuberculosis, TB.

For more serious illnesses, such as TB or measles, patients will be placed in a negative pressure room. This means that the door will be shut and air will be pumped from the room to the outside of the building. Visitors will be asked to wear a surgical mask but will notice that the staff will be wearing a helmet or hood with a clear face mask when caring for the patient.


“We know this isn’t a precaution, but so many of our patients – especially when so sick – still need us to visit and care,” Stiner said. “Seeing the masks, gowns or gloves on people may make the patients worry more about their condition,” Chilson said. “The added support makes a difference,” Keth said. “And following the rules keeps them and you healthy.” Thomas added.

Should you have any questions about precautions when visiting the hospital, feel free to ask any nursing staff or ask to talk to the person in charge of infection prevention.