The Other Patients
Question: When I visit a relative or friend in the hospital I invariably find him sharing a room with others with whom I am not at all familiar. I often wonder whether the mitzvah of visiting and encouraging the sick extends to these strangers as well. What is the right thing to do?
Answer: While you are not obligated to visit someone you don't know, the situation is different when you are already in their proximity as in the case you describe. Just as someone is not required to attend every funeral, but if he encounters one he is expected to somewhat escort it to show his respect for the deceased, so too if you are already in the same room with a sick stranger you are expected to make some gesture of bikur cholim.
This does not necessitate spending as much time with him as you do with the patient you came to visit. Simply asking how he feels and wishing him a speedy recovery can go a long way to lifting his spirits and thus adding another notch to your fulfillment of the mitzvah of bikur cholim.