Preparing for a Hospital Stay: Seven Expert Tips

Chances are, you or someone you love will experience a hospital stay--either planned or unplanned. While you can’t always control the circumstances that result in an admission, you can help protect yourself from medical errors and hospital-acquired infections by being a proactive patient.

Betty Hoeffner, executive producer of the informational video “Things You Should Know Before Entering The Hospital”, offers the following tips to help you be prepared:

  1. Secure advocates, friends and family members to be with you 24 hours a day.

    When checking into the hospital, be sure to have your advocate(s) sign the paperwork that gives them legal permission to know all the details about your treatment so they can ask questions on your behalf. If you don’t have a friend or relative available, you can contact organizations such as the Patient Advocate Foundation.

    “Your advocates need to be assertive so they are not intimidated by hospital personnel,” advises Hoeffner. “If you are hiring someone to act as your advocate, make sure he or she speaks both your language and that of the hospital staff. If not, bring a translator. I personally like the organizations that have registered nurses as patient advocates, especially those who have worked in a hospital.”

  2. Ask questions about any medications and treatments you receive.

    While the hospital personnel is supposed to verify that they have the correct patient by checking your wrist band, you or your advocate should still ask what you are receiving, what condition it is treating, and who ordered it. Each time your doctor visits you in the hospital, ask him what medications or treatments he is ordering or what changes he is making in your care.

  3. Bring with you an updated list of all medications, vitamins and other supplements you are currently taking as well as any health conditions, food allergies, previous treatments or other important facts.

    Also have a list of important contact numbers, including your physicians, family members and a few friends. Have several copies on hand in case additional ones are needed.

  4. Make sure the hospital staff keeps things clean around you.

    It is absolutely critical to avoid infections. If anything falls on the floor, just leave it there for the hospital personnel to pick it up. Be sure that nobody gives it to you – or puts it on your body. Insist that all personnel wash their hands before treating you or handling your food.

  5. Schedule surgical procedures for early in the morning and preferably mid-week.

    Weekend traumas can delay surgeries scheduled for Monday or Tuesday, while those patients having surgery on Friday will only have the week-end staff available. Be sure to get all pre-operative instructions several days prior to your procedure.

  6. Avoid wrong site surgery.

    The Joint Commission requires surgeons to sign their initials directly on the part of your body to be operated on prior to surgery. It’s called site verification so make sure your advocate is there to make the surgeon do this.

  7. Make sure you fully understand your discharge instructions.

    If the doctor has written any prescriptions, be sure you know what medications they are for, how to take them and what dosage amount was ordered. If you have any questions, check with your doctor or have your nurse contact him by phone to address your questions.

    When you fill the prescription, verify that it is for the right medication and is the right dosage amount. Don't leave the hospital until you and your advocate know your home treatment plan, your medications, follow-up doctor visits and when you can return to regular activities.

    Last Updated: 5/2009