When you're in the hospital, a lot of decisions are made for you. You're told what to eat, where to sleep, even what to wear!
Although you may feel dependent or vulnerable when you're hospitalized, you still need to be in charge of your health. One way to do this is to plan in advance.
The first step, when you can, is choosing the hospital. Most often, this happens when you choose a primary or specialist provider, because providers have privileges at specific hospitals.
For example, if you needed knee surgery and were deciding on a surgeon to perform the operation, you should ask where the surgeon has operating privileges and research the hospital. In some cases, your choice of surgeons will depend on who is in your primary provider's network. Some people find that they need to change primary providers to get the specialist (and hospital) that they want.
Here are some of the factors you should consider when looking at hospitals:
Choosing a Hospital Form (Print )
Depending on where you live, some of this information may be available online. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers a hospital locator and comparison tool on their website .
Even if you're currently in robust health, thinking about what you should do if you are hospitalized can help ensure quality care when the time comes.
While it may seem ironic, hospitals are not necessarily healthy environments. According to a 1999 Institute of Medicine study, as many as 98,000 people die each year due to medical errors.
Here are some quick tips, courtesy of physician Bernie Seigal and author Yosaif August, to keep in mind while hospitalized:
Healthy Hospitalization Checklist (Print )
Family and friends can help us to navigate the system and can also be companions as we move through a healthcare experience. In addition, at times when you are unable to act on your own behalf (for example when you are under anesthesia), they can be there to look out and advocate for you.
Healthcare Advocates Checklist (Print )
Talk to your helpers about:
In addition to basic considerations about hospitalization, you must be proactive and organized about interactions with insurance companies regarding a hospital stay. This checklist offers tips for gathering and documenting important hospitalization information.
Insurance Records for Hospital Stays Checklist (Print )
Another way to take charge of creating a healthier hospital stay is to inquire about integrative treatments offered by your hospital. For example, many hospitals offer integrative therapies like music therapy (for stroke patients), acupuncture  for pain and nausea, and stress-reduction classes like yoga  and meditation .
There may also be hospital staff members who are authorized to offer specialized skills like healing touch , Reiki , massage, or other therapies. Visit the hospital website or call Patient Services to learn more about integrative therapy options.
If you can choose your hospital, be sure to research which is the best for you, based on the amount of experience with the surgery or procedure you are having and the safety reports, among other criteria.
When you are in the hospital, stay alert to factors that could impact your safety and health, and enlist friends and family to help you.
Raya, Patricia and Mogenis, Corine A. (2008). Medical Tips from the Inside. Jupiter, Flor.: Merit Publishing International.
Seigal, Bernie, MD and August, Yosaif (2003). Help Me to Heal: A Practical Guidebook for Patients, Visitors and Caregivers. Calif.: Hay House, Inc.
To Err is Human: Building A Safer Health System , 1999 Institute of Medicine study
Speak Up: Help Prevent Errors In Your Care , Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) brochure that provides information on how you can avoid being the victim of medical errors.