Improve Your Hospital Stay: 12 Insider Tips From Nurses and Doctors

Want a more comfortable hospital visit for you or a relative? Here, the doctors the nurses who work there confess their best advice on how to get better sleep, recover more quickly, log complaints, and more.

Don’t Like Your Doctor? Talk to Your Nurse

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“If you don’t like the MD you’re dealing with or you have an unpleasant interaction, you can ask for a different doctor, and the hospital will do its best to accommodate you. People don’t realize that. Start by talking to your nurse.  Or try the hospital’s patient advocate or ombudsman.”  —Theresa Brown, RN, author of The Shift

Bring Your Own Pillow

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“If you want something specific for comfort in the hospital, bring it with you. Especially extra pillows. We never have enough of them.” —A nurse at a North Carolina hospital

And Your Own Toiletries

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“The hospital toiletries are awful. The lotion is watery. The tiny little bars of soap are so harsh that they dry out your skin. There is no conditioner. And the toilet paper and Kleenex are not the softest. Bring your own.”  —Michele Curtis, MD, an ob-gyn in Houston, Texas

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

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Need something? Don’t be afraid to ask. Can you get a rollaway bed if you’re spending the night? Can you get free parking while a family member is there long-term? Can your family get free meals? If you don’t ask, you won’t know.” —Theresa Brown, RN

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Get Outta Bed

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Here’s a secret for getting out of the hospital faster: get up and move. Walk the halls, walk to the cafeteria, go outside and get some sunshine. It will help you avoid blood clots and there’s also a psychological benefit.  One study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that older patients who get out of bed and walk around can reduce their stay by an average of 36 hours. ” —Roy Benaroch, MD, a pediatrician and the author of A Guide to Getting the Best Healthcare for Your Child

Keep a Notebook Handy

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“Bring a notebook and keep it at your bedside.  Write down your questions, who’s coming into your room, and keep track of the conversations you have with different doctors, because it’s easy to get confused and disoriented in the hospital. It will also be helpful once you get the bill to have a record of who saw you and when.” —Deborah Burger, RN, copresident of National Nurses United

Know There Are No Dumb Questions

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“It is ok to ask lots of questions and keep asking them until it makes sense. It’s a fact that when people are in crisis and under a great deal of stress, their cognitive abilities are reduced. We’re aware of that and are happy to repeat information many times.” —Victoria Whitfield, hospital ICU social worker

Request Rest

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“If you’re feeling good and you are stable, ask your doctor if you can sleep undisturbed between midnight and 6 a.m. I can write a note directing the nurses not to wake you up to check your vital signs.” —Michele Curtis, MD

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Pet a Furry Friend

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“If you love animals and miss yours, ask if the hospital has a program for service animals to come and visit.” —Michele Curtis, MD

Pay Attention to Changes

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“As a family member, pay attention and tell us when you notice changes. You know the patient better than we do and you’re the one who’s with them constantly, so you may catch things. In our unit, if a patient’s pain suddenly becomes acute, it could indicate an emergent situation.” —A nurse at a North Carolina hospital

Not Ready to Leave? Speak Up

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“Many hospitals don’t have enough ICU beds, so patients get transferred out prematurely. If the hospital is trying to kick you or a loved one out too soon to free up a bed, say you won’t allow it until you speak with a hospital administrator or the patient advocate. If you do that, they will probably move to the next patient and make him leave instead.” —Evan Levine, MD, a cardiologist and the author of What Your Doctor Can’t (or Won’t) Tell You

Don’t Leave Family Alone

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Never let a loved one spend the night alone in a hospital. Most patients really need someone in the room with them. Then someone is there if they get confused, if they need help to the bathroom or if their breathing pattern changes. If the hospital has restrictive visiting hours (many are eliminating them), ask if they will make an exception.” —Michele Curtis, MD

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