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When You Are in the Hospital: A Guide for Patients

Journal of Patient Safety: March 2006 - Volume 2 - Issue 1 - p 55
Patient Education Page

Hospital stays can be a stressful time for both patient and family. Whether you are hospitalized for a scheduled procedure or unexpected illness, there are several steps you can take to help ensure that you receive the best care possible.

As a first step, make sure your health care team has all the information they need. The more details you provide about your medical history, the better care they can provide you.

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  1. Medications. If you are taking medications or have recently taken medications, bring an updated list, including both name and dosage. This list should include herbal supplements, vitamins, and over-the-counter medications. If you are having surgery, it is particularly important that your health care team knows of any herbal supplement use. There are services that allow you to keep such a list, as well as a personal medical record. Options include and Such services can be particularly helpful in an emergency.
  2. Your Doctor. During an emergency visit, ask the hospital to contact your primary care doctor. Because your doctor knows your health history, his or her involvement can be a tremendous help during an unplanned hospital stay.
  3. Allergies. If you have a known allergy, make sure it is noted in your record and then remind each health care team member of this allergy before medications are administered or procedures are started.
  4. Chronic Conditions. Make sure your record includes any chronic conditions you have, such as asthma, arthritis, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Tell each health care team member about these conditions and be sure to alert someone if symptoms flare. If this is a scheduled visit to the hospital, ask for directions in advance about whether you should take regular medications on the day before and day of your procedure. If you have chronic conditions or medication allergies, wearing a medical alert bracelet or pendant can provide key information to an emergency care team.
  5. Substance Use. You may be asked questions about your lifestyle, such as how much alcohol you drink, if you smoke, and whether you use street drugs. Sometimes, patients are embarrassed or fear they are being judged, so they do not answer honestly. These questions are being asked for your safety. For example, if you drink alcohol regularly, your liver may process certain medications differently; if you smoke, you are at higher risk of an infection after surgery. It is very important that you answer these questions honestly.
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There are several safety checks and measures you can take to lessen the chance of mistakes or complications while you are in the hospital.

  • Check identification information to make sure it is correct. Your name, weight, and age are particularly important. Once in the hospital room, make sure the information in the hospital registry matches yours, not the patient who stayed in the room previously.
  • To prevent infections, wash your hands with soap every time you use the restroom. All visitors and family members should have clean hands before touching you, as well as doctors and health care staff. Do not be afraid to remind those around you to use soap and water. If visitors are not feeling well, ask them to visit with a phone call rather than in person.
  • Monitors are used to make sure that vital systems in your body are working right. They track information such as your breathing and heart rate. Although beeps and other noises from monitors may seem disruptive, do not remove attachments or change settings on these machines. Monitors can be life saving.

Share this information with family and friends. You may want to appoint a person to act as your health advocate during your stay to make sure you are being taken care of as you wish. Your voice or that of your advocate is one of the most important safety measures you can use. Ask questions and raise concerns if you have them.

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Section Description

The Patient Education Page is a feature of the Journal of Patient Safety and not meant to be a substitute for medical advice. If you have questions regarding your personal health, consult your physician or healthcare provider for more information. This page may be reproduced by healthcare professionals for nonprofit, educational use only. For bulk reprints of this page, contact our Healthcare Reprints Department at 410-528-4077.

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.