TRENTON, N.J. -- Hospital stays can be scary, but they don't have to be.
A stay in the hospital can be stressful, whether it's an emergency visit, a birth of a child or a planned surgery. But there are a number of things patients and their relatives or friends can do in order to make stays in the hospital more comfortable.
Knowing about your condition will help you calm any angst about being in the hospital.
If you are going to the hospital and it's a planned visit, research your condition through reliable resources, such as websites run by government health agencies and patient advocacy groups. Also learn about the standard treatments for the condition so that you will know what questions to ask hospital staff.
In cases of an emergency, try to get up to speed as soon as you arrive at the hospital about your condition. Also, ask who's in charge of your care and whether there's a patient representative to help with problems.
Request an assessment of your risk of dangerous blood clots, and preventive medication if needed. And schedule nonemergency surgery for Tuesday through Thursday, when staffing and follow-up care are best.
Throughout your stay, continue to ask questions, including how soon a catheter can be removed, when you can walk in the hallway and if you can go home sooner than planned.
"Press to get out of the hospital as fast as you can," Joel Keehn, a senior health care editor at Consumer Report magazine, which offers product reviews, tips and advice for consumers. "The longer you stay, the more likely (you'll suffer) an infection or medication error."
Even when it's time to go home, you should ask questions. It's important to know about how to take all medications, possible side effects, how to care for wounds and what symptoms indicate deteriorating health. Get instructions in writing, too.
Additionally, request your medical records to take home for your review and to share with your doctors.
Spill your guts
Health care also is a two-way street. Doctors and other hospital staff may know all about your condition, but they might lack valuable information about you.
So you should tell staff about all of your allegories and the names and dosages of all the medications, nonprescription drugs and vitamins you take. It's a good idea to compare the list of drugs you're taking with the medicines being given at the hospital and ask questions if you see any potential problems.
That kind of information sharing can cut down on the possibility of preventable medical errors, which recent studies suggest can affect up to one in four hospitalized patients every year.
Karen Curtiss, a market researcher turned patient advocate, agrees. After serious hospital errors struck three of her family members, Curtiss wrote "Safe & Sound in the Hospital," a book of tips and checklists for hospital stays.
Curtiss says sharing information with the hospital team can improve care since "patients and families are their own experts on themselves."
Bring a friend
Having a "care partner," a relative or close friend, at your side can go a long ways toward improving a hospital stay.
Curtiss, the patient advocate, says a key job for care partners is preventing hospital-acquired infections. They can do that by insisting that everyone from hospital staff to visitor washes their hands before touching you. Studies show that this doesn't always happen.
They also can request alcohol wipes from staff and wipe down bed rails and other surfaces that you might touch, particularly in intensive care units, where infections often spread.
Care partners also can track what happens, or doesn't, during your stay.
They should keep a running log of each treatment, names and titles of doctors involved, when tests are due, the results of those tests, questions to ask and what answers were given.
Additionally, care partners can ask nurses if they may listen in when they discuss your status when there's a shift change, which could help in catching errors. And they can make sure the hospital's discharge planner arranges needed at-home care, follow-up appointments and tests.
"An extra set of eyes really makes a difference," says Consumer Reports' Keehn.