Protect yourself to ensure a speedy recovery and avoid infections and readmission.

Whether you go in for surgery, testing, or an outpatient procedure, your hospital stay can pose further health risks if you are not careful.

“Your potential risks depend in part on why you have to go into the hospital and the facility itself, but there are steps you can take to minimize your risk, especially when it comes to developing hospital-acquired infections that can lead to a longer hospital stay or readmission,” says Dr. Erica Shenoy, an infectious diseases specialist and associate chief of infection control at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Here are some steps to take to ensure a safe hospital visit before, during, and after your stay.

BEFORE

Ask questions.

It can be nerve-racking to ask questions, no matter how small they feel, but you need to muster up the courage and make the most of your interactions with medical staff and during consultation, says Dr. Shenoy. “Just like you, they want you to have a quick and uncomplicated recovery and are open to your inquiries — but you have to ask.”

What should you ask?
H
ere are some questions that can help you manage your own expectations and plan ahead for recovery:

How long will I be in the hospital?

What is the expected recovery time?

Am I likely to need rehab or at-home support? Do I have a choice between the two?

“If at all possible, bring your list of questions and a family member or friend with you during any question–and-answer session,” says Dr. Shenoy. “This will help you feel more confident, and your companion can take notes.”

Get screened for possible infections. Depending on your procedure, you could be at high risk of postoperative infections. For people undergoing knee or hip replacement, common bacteria they may have on their skin can increase the risk.

“About 30% of people carry the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus — or staph — on their skin, without it causing any problems or actual infection,” says Dr. Shenoy. “But this bacterium is implicated in many postoperative infections, which is why your doctor may ask you to get screened for staph colonization, which often involves using a cotton swab on the inside of your nose.”

If you do have staph on your skin, the doctor may prescribe several days of a special bath soap and nose ointment, which together have been shown to decrease — but not eliminate — the risk of developing this type of infection.

Review your medications.

Talk with your doctor about your medications— prescription and over-the-counter — to determine what you should stop taking before your procedure or whether you should change any dosages. “Some drugs, such as blood thinners, may require modifications,” says Dr. Shenoy. Your doctor may provide you with a pre-op checklist so you know what to take and what not to take.

Know the risks.

You may not be aware of all the potential risks. “Even the simplest of procedures has some risks, so it’s important to know what they are even if the odds are quite low,” says Dr. Shenoy. “Knowing the risks can help you make a more informed decision about whether or not to proceed, and also what signs of complications to look for during the recovery period.”

DURING

Practice good hygiene. Doorknobs, handrails, countertops — anything you can touch has the potential to harbor bacteria. Always wash your hands with water and soap before eating and after using the bathroom. Alcohol-based sanitizers are useful outside of those specific circumstances.

All doctors and nurses should wash their hands or use alcohol-base hand sanitizer before they examine you. If not, ask about it. “Many will perform hand hygiene in your presence, but don’t be afraid to ask if they’ve done so before they interact with you,” says Dr. Shenoy.

If your provider expects to encounter blood or body fluids when examining you, he or she may add other protective gear such as gloves and a gown. A clinician may also wear protective equipment if you have a history of harboring particular bacteria.

Know your contacts. Before you leave, get a list of contact information for anyone you need to call regarding your recovery. You’ll also need the dates, times, and locations of all follow-up appointments.

AFTER
Look for warning signs.

When you return home, watch for red flags for when you should seek immediate care — for example, changes in pain, redness or swelling, or fever. “That’s where the list of contacts come in handy,” says Dr. Shenoy. “Reach out to your physicians if you experience symptoms that cause you concern. They can help determine the best next steps.”

Published: June, 2017

https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthcare/stay-healthy-at-the-hospital