How to Get the Most From a Hospital Stay

Treating the nurses well is one of the best things you can do for yourself
By Peter Weiss
Peter Weiss
Peter Weiss
MD
Dr. Peter Weiss has been a frequent guest on local and national TV, newspapers, and radio. He was an assistant clinical professor of OB/GYN at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA for 30 years, stepping down so he could provide his clinical services to those in need when the COVID pandemic hit. He was also a national health care adviser for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
October 5, 2021 Updated: October 5, 2021

August tends to be a busy month for labor and deliveries across the country. This past August was no exception. Our hospital covers overflow from the Kaiser system, and this one couple stood out from the rest.

I was called around midnight to evaluate this first-time mom in early labor. She was turned away from her hospital because they were on overflow (no room in the inn), and here she was. The couple had no idea who anyone was, and had never stepped foot in this hospital before. It truly was an uncomfortable position to be in, but the couple was smart. They were very pleasant to the nurses and to me as well. After we explained who we were and what to expect, they felt a little better. She was 4 centimeters dilated and would deliver her baby with us. We received all the records, and there didn’t seem to be any problems.

At this time, I noticed they had several suitcases with them. I asked how long they planned to stay with us. The husband walked over and opened a large suitcase and showed me all sorts of goodies that were inside. He said they wanted to give them to the nursing staff and doctors as a token of appreciation, before we even did anything. Like I said, this couple was smart! I had him wheel out the suitcase and present his gifts to the staff. This couple was treated like royalty, not because of the goodies, although that did help. They were treated like royalty because they showed respect for the nurses who would be taking care of them.

This may seem strange for people in other countries, but the U.S. health system can be strange. This type of gesture is a sign of respect for the nurses providing care for a loved one; it’s no means an attempt to bribe good care. I have yet to see a nurse bribed by a pepperoni pizza, but I have seen a nurse be grateful and feel appreciated.

Kindness goes a long way.

There are a number of rules to follow when either receiving care or visiting someone in the hospital, such as respecting visiting hours and talking quietly. The most important rule is to be respectful. Attitudes need to be checked at the entrance.

For those visiting patients, there’s a whole other set of do’s and don’ts.

First and foremost, don’t visit anyone if you’re sick.

Limit the time you visit someone. They may not want your company as much as you want theirs.

Don’t touch the equipment. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised.

I always suggest to friends that they buy pizza or cookies for the nursing staff when they have a loved one in the hospital. Not only is it a kind and appreciative gesture, but you’re also letting everyone know that the patient in room x has someone who loves and cares about them. We’re all human, and kindness really empowers even better care.

An old professor of mine used to teach us that the patients who have loved ones around do better, heal better, and get out of the hospital quicker than the ones who are alone. It’s true.

Believe it or not, there was even a scientific article showing “good patients” promote positive outcomes, published in BMC Infectious Diseases in 2015.

There are also some proactive things we as patients can do to improve our stay and care while in the hospital.

The first is choosing which hospital to go to.

This can be critical, depending on what you’re in for. University or academic hospitals are usually better equipped for more difficult illnesses or surgeries, such as cardiac bypass or neurosurgery.

Questions are great and very important, but ask them at one time so the same questions aren’t repeated. This will also allow for everyone to hear the same answer and reduces confusion about what the doctor or nurse said. Have the family members you want to be in the loop present when you ask those questions. Both physicians and nurses can only speak with the patient or designated family or friends.

Don’t distract the nurse when they’re preparing your medications. Interruptions increase the chance for errors. Let the doctors and nurses concentrate on their duties.

I’ve had several patients try to get into a discussion with me during a C section. The majority of women have C sections using spinal anesthesia, which allows for easy conversation. Some have even tried to talk about politics. Why someone would argue with a person literally holding a knife inside their belly is beyond me, but they do. One patient even wanted me to stop the surgery so a nurse could move a mirror for her to watch—and this was after the baby was born!

Many hospitals will allow you to bring your own regular medications, as this can save you a lot of money. Make sure you bring them in the original pharmacy container, otherwise you may have a problem.

Always check your bill. While your insurance company will be billed, you will probably owe a fair amount out of deductibles and copays. Hospitals tend to overcharge and be redundant in billing. Read it thoroughly; go through the charges with a fine-toothed comb.

Be patient with the use of electronic medical records (EMR). Doctors and nurses hate them even more than most patients do. If we’re typing information instead of looking at you, please understand that we weren’t trained as data entry clerks and are doing our best.

I also have another small simple piece of advice for patients being admitted to the hospital. Bring your own toiletries. You’ll feel a lot better.

Finally, sadly, spiritual care isn’t profitable for hospitals. If your hospital doesn’t have a chaplain available, you can invite someone who will provide such services for you as a visitor.

There is a great quote by an unknown author: “Be nice to nurses. They keep the doctors from accidentally killing you.”

Bottom line, nurses give you the care you need when you’re in the hospital.

Peter Weiss
Dr. Peter Weiss has been a frequent guest on local and national TV, newspapers, and radio. He was an assistant clinical professor of OB/GYN at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA for 30 years, stepping down so he could provide his clinical services to those in need when the COVID pandemic hit. He was also a national health care adviser for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.