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How to Survive a Hospital Stay

Keeping yourself or elder family members safe and healthy during a hospital stay 

Patient advocates agree preparation is the key. The time to make sure you or your aging parent has all of the necessary documentation for a hospital stay is before an ambulance arrives for an injury or worse. Be sure your parent has a fully written or typed medical history that you can hand to the emergency physician taking care of the case. It needs to include all medications, the names and contact information for your parent's primary doctor and any specialists being seen, any recent diagnostic tests that may have been done, and other relevant contact information.

  • Health Insurance – Make sure to always have a copy of the most recent health insurance card with your parent and keep a copy for yourself. If your parent is eligible for Medicare, and also has Supplemental Medicare Insurance – be sure to have both ID cards.
  • Other Documentation – If your parent has not thought about having a legal document drawn up to direct medical decisions, now would be a good time to have such a document prepared. Sometimes referred to as a “Living Will” the document is more accurately described as the Advance Directive for Health Care. With this form your loved one appoints someone to make decisions about his or her health care and treatments if they cannot speak for themselves due to illness or injury. It also makes clear your feelings on end-of-life decisions. If you have not already done so, while you are convincing your parents to fill out such a form, it’s a good idea to do one for yourself as well.

Once you are in the hospital when things do not go as smooth as you would like as is often the case, yelling or being otherwise abusive to the nurse or other support staff is never a good idea. Nurses and other technicians are not responsible for bad food, non-working phones or TVs, excessive parking fees, etc. Ask to speak to the on-call administrator or supervisor of nursing and speak to him or her calmly and matter-of-factly about your problem.

"Healthcare is just beginning to realize how big a problem it has with patient safety." – Albut Wu, professor of health policy management, Johns Hopkins University

Medication errors pose a key risk to hospitalized elderly patients, with one third of all hospital medication errors happening to this group,  according to United States Pharmacopeia.  And medication problems are only one of a series of problems your parent may face in the hospital. In recent Los Angeles Times interview Albert Wu, Professor of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Was quoted as saying, “Healthcare is just beginning to realize how big a problem it has with patient safety".


Here are some important things to remember:

  • You are your family members’ eyes and ears when they are hospitalized.
  • Make notes of all medications and dosages.
  • Ask every nurse or technician the name of the patient they are there for when ever they come to treat or pick-up you or your loved one for a test or procedure, to make sure they have the right patient.
  • If surgery is required make sure the correct side of the body is physically marked.
  • Prevent the spread of hospital borne infections such as pneumonia or MRSA by placing hand sanitizer by the patent’s bed, and insisting that everyone use it – even doctors and nurses!
  • Make sure in-dwelling catheters are regularly changed. Ask the doctor about the frequency, then make sure the nursing staff follows the schedule.  Unless necessary, it is better not to be catheterized as this is a very common cause of urinary tract infections.

Finally, do not assume that your family doctor will be automatically contacted about your or your loved one's hospitalization. Contact the doctor directly.



  • Each year, 1.5 million Americans are injured by receiving the wrong medication or the incorrect dose. (Source: Institute of Medicine)
  • Nearly one-fifth of hospital deaths in 2007 were preventable. (Source: 2008 Annual HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study)
  • 300,000 patients contract pneumonia each year in U.S. hospitals.