A recent Reader’s Digest article culled information from health professionals about hospital care. Titled, “50 secrets hospitals don’t want to tell you (but every patient should know),” the article has some great tips for anyone receiving medical care.
Here are a few of the “secrets.” To see them all, visit http://www.rd.com/health/conditions/hospital-safety-secrets/
Pick a teaching hospital. “For complex surgical procedures, you’re generally better off at teaching hospitals, which usually stay at the forefront of health research. Medical students and residents ask questions, providing more eyes and ears to pay attention and prevent errors. Teaching hospitals have lower complication rates and better outcomes.” — Dr. Evan Levine, a cardiologist and the author of What Your Doctor Can’t (or Won’t) Tell You.
Sanitize everything. “Superbugs live everywhere, and they can travel. Even if your doctor washed his hands, that sparkling white coat brushing against your bed can easily transfer a dangerous germ from someone else’s room. Ask for bleach and alcohol wipes to clean bed rails, remotes, doorknobs, phones, call buttons, and toilet flush levers. Wash your hands before you eat.” — Karen Curtiss, author of Safe & Sound in the Hospital: Must-Have Checklists and Tools for Your Loved One’s Care
Join the conversation. “Ask your nurses to do a ‘bedside shift change.’ This is when they share information in your presence instead of at the nurses’ station. You can better correct any errors. (Studies show it also improves communication and care.)” —Karen Curtiss
Don’t be a distraction. “Don’t interrupt the nurse when he’s preparing your medications. One study found that the more times you distract him, the greater the likelihood of error. (Each interruption was linked to a 12 percent increase in errors.)” —Sally Rafie, a hospital pharmacist with the UC San Diego Health System
Nurses are overwhelmed. “Hospitals often force nurses to handle more patients than they should—even though studies show if your nurse is responsible for fewer patients, they have better outcomes. California is the only state with hospital-wide minimum nurse-patient staffing ratios. Researcher Linda Aiken at the University of Pennsylvania found that each extra patient a nurse has above an established nurse-patient ratio made it 7 percent more likely that one of those patients would die.” —Deborah Burger, RN, copresident of National Nurses United
You may unknowingly pay for out-of-network care. “Even if you’re careful to choose a hospital and a surgeon that are in network, there’s no guarantee that everyone involved in your care at the hospital is also in network. The radiologist, anesthesiologist, pathologist, and even the assistant surgeon could be out of network, and—surprise!—you’ll be billed at a much higher rate. (Some states, including New York and California, now have laws to prevent this from happening.)” —Cathy Schoen, executive director of the Council of Economic Advisors at the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that focuses on health care.
Ask if you’ll be admitted. “You can stay overnight in the hospital but never officially be “admitted.” Instead, the hospital can say you are there “under observation.” That can be tricky for seniors because if they’re then sent to a nursing home for rehab, Medicare won’t pay for it unless they were actually admitted. Always ask whether you’re admitted. —Deborah Burger, RN
Bring you own meds. It’s a lot cheaper—and usually OK—to bring your own medicines from home, but the hospital pharmacy will have to check them to verify they are what the bottle says. Just ask your doctor to write the order. —Dr. Michele Curtis, an ob-gyn in Houston, Texas
Check, check, check your bill. “Eight out of 10 hospital bills we see contain an error, so check your bill carefully. You may identify a drug you didn’t take. Or you know that you discontinued a treatment on Tuesday, but you were charged for Wednesday. The number on the bill is only a starting point. Try to negotiate for 35 to 50 percent off the charges.” —Pat Palmer, CEO of Medical Billing Advocates of America
Stay with loved ones. “Don’t let loved ones spend the night alone in a hospital. It’s important someone is there if they get confused or need help getting to the bathroom or if their breathing pattern changes. If the hospital has restrictive visiting hours (many are eliminating them), ask if it will make an exception.” —Dr. Michele Curtis
Hospital food could make you sick. “Don’t assume the food is what you should be eating. There’s no communication between dietary and pharmacy, and that can be a problem when you’re on certain meds. I’ve had patients on drugs for hypertension or heart failure (which raises potassium levels), and the hospital is delivering (potassium-rich) bananas and orange juice. Then their potassium goes sky high, and I have to stop the meds. Ask your doctor whether there are foods you should avoid.” —Dr. Evan Levine
Schedule surgery early in the week. “On weekends and holidays, hospitals typically have lighter staffing and less experienced doctors and nurses. Some lab tests and other diagnostic services may be unavailable. If you’re having a major elective surgery, try to schedule it for early in the week so you won’t be in the hospital over the weekend.” —Dr. Roy Benaroch, a pediatrician and the author of A Guide to Getting the Best Healthcare for Your Child
Too much rest can impede recovery. “Get up and move. Walk the halls, walk to the cafeteria, go outside. It will help you avoid blood clots, and patients see psychological benefits. One study found that older patients who get out of bed and walk around reduce their stay by an average of 40 hours.” —Dr. Roy Benaroch
Take notes, especially at discharge. “One study found that patients forget 40 percent to 80 percent of what doctors and nurses tell them, even if they’re nodding their heads. Have someone with you to take notes or tape-record what the doctor says on a smartphone. (Ask, “Do you mind if I tape-record this?”) The most critical time to record is at discharge, when you receive crucial information about medications and next steps.” —Karen Curtiss
Request a full night’s sleep. “If you’re feeling good and you are stable, ask your doctor whether you can sleep undisturbed between midnight and 6 a.m. I can write a note directing the nurses not to wake you up to check your vital signs.” — Dr. Michele Curtis