Emergency Medicine

How to Prepare for a Hospital Stay

If you have a hospital stay scheduled, read this before you check in.

Hospital stays are often stressful, but they’re easier when you’ve prepared in advance and you know what to expect.

What to Do Before You Go to the Hospital

  1. Pack small things that will make your stay more comfortable, such as toiletries and a phone charger. Consider bringing your own pillow. If you are a light sleeper, an eye mask or earplugs might be helpful.
  2. Fill your prescriptions ahead of time. Call your doctor and ask if they can give you an advance prescription for any pain medications you might need, so you can have them ready when you come home.
  3. Purchase Colace and Senokot. Anesthesia and pain medications can cause severe constipation, and it's best to prepare before it becomes a problem. Colace is a stool softener and Senokot is a laxative. In the hospital, request Colace if it's not already ordered. There are no side effects.
  4. Confirm that your insurance covers all providers who will take care of you in the hospital. Pay special attention to the anesthesiologist. If you receive any bills that do not make sense to you after a hospital stay, do NOT pay them. Many times, a quick phone call can correct a billing error. For example, if you stayed longer than the initial insurance authorization allowed, the hospital may charge you, but you should not be responsible for that bill.
  5. Bring a list of your medications and names and contact information for your providers in case the medical team needs to talk to one of them.

Get to Know the People Taking Care of You

During your hospital stay, many people will come in and out of your room. Knowing who they are prevents confusion and frustration, and sets up appropriate expectations.

Your surgeon works with a team. In a teaching hospital, the hierarchy works like this:

  • Attending Physician. This is your surgeon or a covering surgeon.
  • Fellows. They have completed medical school and residency, and are specializing.
  • Residents. They have completed medical school and are training to be surgeons.
  • Medical Students. They rotate on different services and are the least knowledgeable. Do not ask them questions, because they may not give you accurate information.

Fellows and residents do most of the work with you in the hospital. They are in contact with the surgeon.

The surgeon will do rounds with the team in the morning. Ask what time they do rounds, because you'll want to have an informed family member in the room. This is when they communicate the most important information. It’s also an opportunity for you to raise concerns. The doctor doing rounds might not be your surgeon, but there will always be an attending physician there at that time.

Tip: Designate someone to communicate on your behalf while you're in the hospital. This way, every new visitor doesn’t bombard the staff with questions that have already been answered.

You’ll have nurses and nursing assistants. Nurses are skilled professionals who are trained to assess symptoms and resolve problems. The old saying, “The nurse knows more than the doctor” can be true! Nurses are the eyes and ears of the hospital. They dispense medications and also serve as your advocate. Nurses are trained to understand every aspect of your care. They are often stretched very thin so they rely on nursing assistants to help them.

The first person you’ll see in the morning is usually an assistant who comes to take your vital signs. Nurses usually work in two shifts, 7 to 7. Find out who your nurse is for the day and write their name down. If you have any concerns, or you are in pain, you can ring a bell. If no one responds, walk to the nurse’s station and ask for your nurse. If they are busy, someone else can usually help you. If you can’t have a family member stay with you overnight, you may want to ask about a private nurse for nighttime. This isn’t usually necessary, but it depends on where you are.

For more ways to get great care during a hospital visit, read these tips from hospital insiders.

If you or someone you love could use help navigating the healthcare system before, during, and after an upcoming hospital visit, reach out to an expert health advisor.

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