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How to Survive a Hospital

All of us depend on doctors and hospital workers for treatment when we are sick or injured. Many times they are successful, saving our lives or the lives of our loved ones. But hospitals are far from infallible. 195,000 people die each year in American hospitals due to potentially preventable medical errors. The following guide will give you the information you need to avoid being one of those statistics.

Before you Get to the Hospital:

– Research Your Options

Not all hospitals are equal, especially in regards to more complex surgeries. Take the time to find a doctor with expertise in the treatment you require by researching through accredited sites like the US News and World Report. If you have the time, ask potential doctors how they compare to regional and national averages in performance measures, such as complications and mortality.

– Bring the Patient’s Medication History and Paper to Write On

In one survey, 87% of nurses said that it would be helpful if patients brought a list of the drugs they are currently taking as well as the medications to which they are allergic. This includes over-the-counter drugs and supplements. A piece of paper will be necessary to write down information and questions you have once you get to the hospital.

At the Hospital:

– Identify a Point Person to Coordinate your Stay

38% of nurses have reported problems in the coordination of care due to the number of different nurses and doctors working on any given patient. Avoid this by asking a primary physician, a hospitalist, or another specialist to coordinate the stay and take accountability for watching over your health. This primary point of contact will serve as the ultimate authority over your care, and should be the person to whom you address key issues.

– Keep Track and Ask Questions

Try to write down the names of all the doctors and nurses that assist you, as well as all the drugs you are given. Given that you will (and should) have specific questions, write down all your thoughts ahead of time so that when the doctor visits, you can ask her or him everything on your mind.

– Insist on Cleanliness

Anyone who touches you, including doctors and visitors alike, should wash their hands. Do not be embarrassed to ask if they have done so. Additionally, any tubes placed inside you, such as urinary catheters and central intravenous lines, increase the risk of infection. Ask every day if they can be removed.

– Be a Proactive Patient

Before taking any new medication or undergoing any surgery or test, talk with the doctor about why it is necessary. This is especially true if something seems odd to you, or if you do not understand the reason for your doctor’s actions. Additionally, in regards to surgeries, always make sure the doctor marks the correct body side. Wrong-site surgeries happen 40 to 60 times a week in the United States.

– Notify Staff Before You need Them

Doctors and nurses have a lot of patients to tend to, especially late at night and on the weekends when the number of support staff decreases. If you anticipate needing help, call sooner rather than later.

Before You Leave:

– Make a Discharge Plan with your Doctor

According to a 2009 study in The New England Journal of Medicine, 20% of patients discharged from the hospital are readmitted within 30 days. To help avoid this, discuss what you will need at home in order to continue in good health, such as physical therapy or nursing home care. Ask specific questions and know who you can follow up with in case of an emergency.


Esposito, Lisa, “How to Survive Your Hospital Stay,” U.S. News Health Care, 3 June 2014.

Kirchheimer, Sid, “How to Survive a Stay in the Hospital,” WebMD.

“Staying safe in the hospital,” Consumer Reports, Volume 22 Number 11, 13 September 2010.

“Top 10 Ways to Survive a Hospital While Maintaining Your Sanity,” Happy Hospitalist.

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