No one is in a better position than a nurse to give you insider information about your hospital stay – unless she’s a nurse who went on to become a doctor. Marie Savard, M.D., medical contributor to Good Morning America and the author of Ask Dr. Marie and How to Save Your Own Life, offers these tips for taking charge of your healthcare when you’re going to the hospital:
Don’t count on the doctors and nurses having access to your medical history. Bring a list of medications with doses and directions, a list of allergies, and your living will. Most important, bring your medical records, including copies of laboratory tests, X-ray reports, and doctor consultations. If you haven’t been keeping a file of these items, start tracking them down now and always ask for them in the future. Many people think that all their medical information is together somewhere on a computer, but that’s definitely not true. You—not your doctor, pharmacist, or hospital—are the only one responsible for the accuracy and completeness of your medical records.
Have a tag team of “health buddies.” Enlist the aid of family members and friends willing to be on hand to ask questions and write down the answers, make sure you’re getting the right medications in the correct doses, and just generally look out for you when you’re too sick or too groggy or too scared to manage on your own.
Be sure you know who your “attending physician” is. Ask your nurse for his or her name and phone number as well as the times he or she makes rounds. On a typical day, you may see your family doctor, many specialists, your surgeon, your anesthesiologist, several nurses, and an ever-changing cast of nurse assistants and other staff members. That’s why you and your health buddies need to stay in touch with your attending physician as the point person who can summarize all the input you’re getting and make certain there are no errors or discrepancies. Don’t let that white coat intimidate you! If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Speak up. Nobody cares about your outcome as much as you and your health buddies do.
Help the nursing staff. Years ago, the hospital was a place for people to rest and recover from illnesses. The average stay was over one week and nurses were plentiful. Today people are admitted only when absolutely necessary and for as short a time as possible. Also, day-to-day care such as taking vital signs and helping with bathing and eating often falls to nursing assistants rather than nurses. You and your health buddies need to be vigilant. Each day, those assigned to your case will get a “plan of care” listing dietary restrictions, the tests scheduled, medications, and other special orders from your doctor. Ask to review the plan in order to make sure it’s carried out to the letter.
Have a strict hand-washing policy. Hospital infections, especially those resulting from antibiotic resistant bacteria, are on the rise. The best defense is clean hands. Ask all your visitors, health buddies, and even the staff to wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water and use a hand sanitizer. For good measure, consider putting a “Thank you for washing your hands” sign on the bedside table so people will get the message if they come in when you’re asleep.
Ask for an explanation of your discharge summary. You’ll probably be sent home while you’re still recovering and you may receive complicated treatment instructions. Be sure you understand what you need to do to continue to get better.
Why not share this list with friends and family, especially anyone who is scheduled for surgery or is expecting a baby sometime soon. Here’s to safe and successful hospital visits for you and all those you love!
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Sondra Forsyth, a National Magazine Award winner, writes for major magazines and is the author or co-author of eleven books. She was Executive Editor at Ladies’ Home Journal, Features Editor at Cosmopolitan, and Articles Editor at Bride’s. A former ballerina, she is the Artistic Director of Ballet Ambassadors, an arts-in-education company in New York City.