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Hospitals 101

How To Maximize Your Stay In A Hospital Safely

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It's easy to think that you are at the mercy of a hospital bureaucracy to give you what you need when you need it and to take all precautions to avoid medical error and infection. It's also easy to think that there is no need to keep track of the services you are provided in a hospital either because they are included in the basic charge or will be billed correctly by a computer It is also to think the bill is irrelevant because you are insured.

In fact, it is up to you to be sure you get what you need in a hospital, to do what you can to avoid medical error and getting unnecessary (potentially deadly) infections. It is also important to keep track of services provided because a large number of hospital bills are wrong - and you pay a large share even if you are insured.

Until you are feeling up to the task of taking care yourself, it is advisable to have a family member or friend with you to act as your advocate as much of the time as possible. You or your advocate must make your needs known and see that they are met.

The steps you and/or your patient advocate should take are described in the documents in How to Maximize Your Stay In A Hospital. In general, you and/or your advocate should:

  • Be informed about your health condition and treatments to be sure you are getting the treatment  you are supposed to be getting, when you are supposed to be getting it.
  • Learn who the various professionals are who treat you, and what each of their functions are. For example, a doctor known as a Hospitalist may be in charge of coordinating your medical care while in the hospital.
  • Be alert to what's going on.
  • Know your rights.
  • Be assertive. You can be assertive without being obnoxious.
  • Keep in mind that you do not have to be in pain.
  • Do what you can to help avoid unnecessary infection.
  • Keep track of treatments and services provided to you as they are provided.

If you have health insurance, do not rely on the hospital to check that all medical care providers are covered by your coverage. If your insurance only covers in-network doctors, it's up to you to be sure all medical personnel contract with your insurer. Otherwise, you may be stuck with the bill for that person's services. This is known as "Balance Billing." (There are steps you can take if you get billed under "Balance Billing.")

If you executed a Living Will or a Health Care Power of Attorney, ask a nurse to check to be sure they and the name of your health care proxy are noted in your chart. If you have executed a Do Not Resucscitate order (DNR), it should be prominently noted throughout your chart so everyone who is involved with you will see it. (It also helps to hang a DNR sign above your bed - even if it is handwritten).


  • You can keep family and friends to date easily through such alternatives as free web sites designed for that purpose or simple phone trees. (For more information, see How To Keep Family And Friends Up-To-Date)
  • Your right to receive visitors you designate has been extended in hospitals which receive money from Medicaid or Medicare to include a domestic partner - including a same-sex domestic partner, as well as spouses, family members and friends.

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