The Internet makes it easy to view or keep up with my favorite sports results almost instantaneously. It wasn't all that long ago that the fastest access to scores from around the country was the local paper's sports hotline recording.
I had déjà vu experiences after a friend's injury led to a hospital stay. Several years ago, another friend had a long wait for a liver transplant. In both cases, I had to balance knowing right away with avoiding wearing down the patient (and their families) with too many questions.
While the Internet cannot take the place of a personal visit or a casserole dropped by the house, it can help you stay informed and show care and support.
Personal websites. CaringBridge.org and CarePages.com are the most well-known sites. Easily set up, they can include patient information, updates and photos, and allow visitors to send a greeting. Available in English and Spanish, they use passwords to protect privacy.
CarePages, which accepts some advertising, includes other resources and support tools. CaringBridge, now in its 15th year, recently added SupportPlanner, a calendar to help coordinate meals and other tasks. This is similar to LotsaHelpingHands.com.
TheStatus.com is available in five languages and geared for those averse to web programming.
Hospital perks. Hospital and hospital websites list services to make visits less stressful. Some offer to allow you to email a patient. Messages are printed out and delivered to him or her. Other facilities may offer patient tracking boards or pagers to reduce the frustration of finding people.
Currently a beta site, MyCareText.com is designed to allow hospital staff to text status updates to supplied cell numbers for family and friends. Patients can also receive reminders, such as to fast before a procedure.
Support sites. Cancer is not cured in an overnight visit. Those with long-term diseases and other conditions can find encouragement from others suffering the same conditions and from research and treatment news. Many sites exist, such as MyLifeLine.org for cancer patients and survivors. PatientPower.info includes a variety of conditions and sites under the Community tab for Our Partners.
Displaying courtesy. Different conditions may require different forms of ministry to the sick and their families. LifeWay (tinyurl.com/Lifewayvisit) has helpful guidelines for making visits. Suggestions include observing visiting hours, calling ahead, knocking before entering a room and sticking to short visits.
Gifts such as a robe or slippers can be an alternative to flowers and balloons. Your church may utilize a blanket or shawl ministry, or drop by a book from the church library.
In the home, offering to help with meals, cleaning, lawn care, errands, and caring for children and pets can be less stressful than simply asking, "What can I do?" Other ideas are at tinyurl.com/helpingthesick.
Displaying privacy. Social media can quickly alert others of emergencies and call people to prayer. It can also spread incorrect information, wild speculation and inappropriate comments that may upset relatives, affect employment or result in requiring false facts to be corrected.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protects patients' privacy. Churches should regularly evaluate that they are following HIPAA privacy rules. ChurchLawandTax.com (tinyurl.com/HIPAAhelps) discusses guidelines with examples. Churchadminpro.com (tinyurl.com/HIPAA2) has other resources.
Work with the ill or a trusted family member to approve a designated means of sharing information, including keeping church staff informed. Remember to include those not on the Internet, not texting, or not on a texting plan.
A good mixture of concern, creativity and sensitivity can be a blessing to the sick.
Ken Satterfield is advertising coordinator for Word&Way.