Five Tips to Surviving a Hospital Stay

Hospital Stay - Health Crisis

by Betty Long, RN~
Planning on a hospital Stay? Imagine you’re about to travel to a foreign land. You’ve heard it can be a mighty dangerous place, but you have to go, you have no choice. You don’t know exactly where the threats lurk, and you don’t speak the language. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a guide?

In many ways, a hospital is like that foreign land, and the guides that know the terrain are the nurses.

As many as 98,000 people die in U.S. hospitals each year as a result of medical errors, according to an Institute of Medicine report. Some 99,000 people die each year from infections acquired in the hospital, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Vigilance is key. Patients do better when they take an active role in their health care. They have the better clinical outcomes because they take more ownership.

The American Hospital Association agrees that patients play a crucial role. Patients can, and should, ask questions when something does not seem quite right. It’s OK to question—sometimes it can literally be the difference between life and death, YOUR life and death.

The consequences of medical errors are especially devastating for children, according to the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals nationwide. Believe it or not, one in 15 hospitalized children is harmed by medication errors. Nearly two-thirds of parents reported they felt the need to watch over their child’s hospital care to make sure no one made any mistakes. Who can blame them with those odds?

Given the dangers lurking in hospitals, Guardian Nurses offers these suggestions about what steps to take to protect yourself and your family.

1. Bring in a list of the medications you’re taking

This is one of the most important things you can do to ensure your safety. In fact, keep a list of your meds in your wallet just in case you’re taken to the emergency room.

One patient, with whom Guardian Nurses worked, had a seizure disorder, and learned this lesson long ago. “If I fall from a seizure … and have to go to the hospital, I already have a printout of medications on my person,” she said.

2. Make sure the hospital gets your name right

Last year, one of our patients suffered a drop in hemoglobin and needed two units of blood immediately. Unfortunately his name was entered incorrectly on the computer and he was given the blood under another patient’s name. Though it was corrected, it had the potential to cause serious harm.

3. Ask about every medication they give you

Before you accept and take any medication in the hospital, make sure you double-check the name, dosage, and timing of every one. One of our nurse advocates was visiting her patient in the hospital when a staff nurse came in to administer an IV medication. The nurse advocate from Guardian Nurses asked “What are you hanging?” The staff nurse said it was ampicillin, an antibiotic. It also was something the patient was allergic to and when it was pointed out to her, she said, “Oh, you’re right. Thanks for catching that.”

4. Make sure everyone washes hands

This could be the #1 rule in health care. When interacting with patients, every single practitioner—physician, nurse, lab tech, dietary aide—-should wash their hands before touching them. And you as a patient should remind them! This is not the time to be shy or worry about hurting anyone’s feelings.

5. If you think something’s wrong, don’t back down

We tell our patients this all the time. Listen to your gut, follow your instinct. My mother always used to say, “Better to be safe than sorry.” And when you’re a patient in a hospital, this couldn’t be more true.

We interacted with another patient who had breast cancer and was scheduled to receive a steroid called Decadron before her chemotherapy. Instead of the order being written as a one-time only order, it had been written as every 12 hours. The patient questioned the order knowing that she was diabetic and that the steroid could wreak havoc with her blood sugar. Eventually, the order was corrected.

You don’t need to be aggressive, nasty, and mean when you’re questioning. Again, mom used to say, “You can get more with honey than you can with vinegar.” But above all, be confident. It’s YOUR well-being.


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About Betty Long, RN

As a registered nurse working in greater Philadelphia-area hospitals over the past 27 years, Betty Long’s experiences as a nurse and manager proved to her that maneuvering through today’s healthcare system can be daunting, especially when you don’t have someone to help you navigate the system. Care decisions, insurance decisions and coordination of treatment services can overwhelm even the savviest consumer. Those experiences, and other more personal experiences, led Long to launch Guardian Nurses Healthcare Advocates in October 2003. Guardian Nurses provides advocacy services for clients, both private and corporate, all over the United States. The driving mission for its nurse advocates is simple: to act as representatives and advocate for their patients. And since nurse advocates work independently of hospitals, doctors, insurance companies and government agencies, they can be a strong voice for patients in all areas of the healthcare system. Nurse advocates understand healthcare issues from the viewpoint of caring for the patient and of the medical professionals trying to provide care. Nationally, Long’s advocacy work has been featured on The Dr Oz Show and National Public Radio’s Marketplace and Marketplace Money shows and various print publications.

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