December 2019

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Staying in the Hospital?

Safety Tips for Your Visit

Having a health problem can be scary. Add in a visit to the hospital, and it can become overwhelming. But there are things you can do to make your stay safer and more comfortable.

Hospitals are busy places. Different people may come in and out of your room. You might have many tests. And while you wait for answers, there can be harmful germs lurking around. These things can raise the chance for medical errors and infections.

Being engaged and asking the right questions can help lower the risks that come with a hospital stay, says Laura Lee, who oversees patient safety at the NIH Clinical Center, the nation’s largest research hospital.

Lee suggests you bring along someone you trust. Having someone with you can be a big help in making decisions and navigating your stay. It can be a friend or family member.

If you don’t have someone with you, a trusted member of your care team can be your advocate too. They can help explain things if you need more information. Some hospitals may have special patient advocates you can ask for as well.

Next, figure out who’s in charge of your care. Ask your care team: “Who is the captain of my ship?” Lee says. You’ll want to find out who is responsible for leading the team and resolving issues if something goes wrong. This person can help ensure that your needs are met.

Infections are a major concern during a hospital stay. The good news is that hand washing is a simple way to prevent the spread of germs.

It’s important that everyone coming into your room practice good hand hygiene. This includes you, your visitors, and the hospital staff caring for you. Don’t be afraid to ask: “Did you wash your hands?” if you didn’t see them do it.

It’s also important to talk honestly with your medical team. “Be an open communicator and partner with your health care team,” says Capt. Antoinette Jones, the NIH Clinical Center patient representative. “You have to be willing to speak up for yourself.”

Don’t be shy about asking the same question two or three times. Answers to medical questions can be complicated. You may get different answers from different people caring for you. Keep asking until you feel like you understand completely.

Don’t feel like you’re wasting your doctor’s time by asking questions. “That white coat is not armor that keeps you from asking questions or asking them to explain. It’s just a piece of fabric,” Lee says. Speak up if you have concerns. They’re there to help you.

Finally, keep a written record of your stay. At the NIH Clinical Center, patients can access many of their medical notes and test results electronically in real time. If your hospital doesn’t offer this option, you or your advocate can take careful notes instead. Record information about tests, medications, and the providers that come to visit.

Having this record can help prevent mistakes by allowing you to double-check information. And you can always request to have a complete copy of your electronic health record at any time.

By following these tips, you can take charge of your safety. For more info, see the Wise Choices box.

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