Are You Hospital Savvy?

Knowing what’s going on behind the scenes can result in a much briefer and safer hospital stay. Check out these surprising secrets to help you make the best of the situation.

Avoid Hospitals and Emergency Rooms in July and August

New medical students, interns and residents start work July 1 and medical errors spike. There’s even a name for it: The “July phenomenon.” One study found that the odds of interns nearly missing important information in a blood test were more than double in their first month on rotation as during the following 11 months of their internship. A primary reason for the near misses? “Inexperience and unfamiliarity with hospital systems,” say researchers. Another study found the average length of stay in hospitals increased 2 percent in July, August and September, while the average death rate increased 4 percent. You can wait until Christmas for that hernia repair, can’t you?

Never Check In On a Weekend

Unless it’s an emergency—if you’re just having tests or elective surgery—don’t check into the hospital on a weekend (or a holiday). Chances are good that you will do nothing but lie in bed for the weekend at a cost of more than $1,200 a day. Doctors try to discharge patients by Friday, so hospitals want to fill the empty beds on weekends. For both your monetary and physical health, insist on checking in as close to the test or surgery time as possible.

Ask: Have You Washed Your Hands?

How gross is this: The nurse changes the sheets of your roommate who just had his appendix out, then comes right over to work on yours. Did she wash her hands? No. In fact, although the primary way to reduce the spread of hospital-borne infections is hand washing, studies find most hospital workers comply with basic hand-washing requirements less than half the time. One way to make sure the nurses or doctors do wash their hands before examining you? Ask. One study found that when patients checked whether health-care workers washed their hands, the workers did it more often and used more soap.

Ask For a Less Unpleasant Catheter

It’s one of the most humiliating and painful parts of hospitalization–if you’re a man. It’s probably also the reason you got that nasty urinary tract infection during your hospital stay. Next time you have to go to the hospital, ask for an external, or “condom,” catheter. This form of catheter is a rubber latex sheath with a tube at the end that fits tightly on the penis, rather than having to be inserted into it. The first-ever study comparing the two types of catheters found the condom catheter, which is much less painful, reduced the risk of urinary tract infections by 80 percent. That could mean a shorter hospital stay, not to mention a quicker overall recovery. Of course, this type of catheter doesn’t work if the reason for a catheter is a constricted urinary tract due to prostate problems or bladder surgery.

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