Preparing for a Hospital Stay: 7 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 healthcare-associated Infections (HAIs) 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 at least one advocate — a friend or family members who can 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 wristband, 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 your Medical History and Vaccinations Data Sheet.

This is an updated list of all medications (prescription and OTC), 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.

WHN TIP – Legal Documents: Don’t forget to bring your healthcare power of attorney and living will. The hospital may ask for either or both. More details on both here.

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, your bed or your tray table.

Insist that all personnel wash their hands before treating you or handling your food.

WHN TIP – Avoid HAIs: Follow the CDC’s advice on how to be a safe patient.

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 weekend 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 mark the procedure site (called site verification) with their initials or some other unambiguous mark directly on the part of the body to be operated on prior to surgery. 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 the right medication and 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.