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Going to a hospital can prove dangerous to your health. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 225,000 deaths per year are iatrogenic (attributable to doctors or healthcare professionals). This makes “death by doctor” the third most-common cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and all forms of cancer. So how can you protect your health while in a hospital?

The first step is to do everything you can to stay out of a hospital in the first place by staying healthy. Eat the right kinds of foods—mostly fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, and lean meat and avoid processed foods and the chemicals that come with them. Drink lots of water and avoid soda and other sugary beverages. Get plenty of sleep and manage your stress. Lastly, be sure to exercise properly and regularly.

If you absolutely must spend time in a hospital, be aware of your environment and take preventative measures whenever possible.

If you have the choice, avoid going to the hospital for elective care during the month of July, on Fridays, and over weekends. While the evidence is mixed, some studies suggest that more medical errors occur when new residents begin their training during summer months and when hospitals are more thinly staffed or caregivers are looking forward to the end of the workweek. All of these factors can affect your relative safety in a hospital environment.

Beware of hospital-acquired infections. There are many disease-causing pathogens in a hospital, some of which can be transmitted by touch. Just think of how many people have touched that door knob or the edge of that water fountain. Always wash your hands after moving around the hospital. Never touch your eyes, nose, mouth, or ears after touching surfaces that other patients may have touched until you have thoroughly cleaned your own hands. And insist that doctors and nurses wash their hands before touching or examining you.

Ask questions about your treatment. Find out what medications your healthcare providers are giving you and what they are for. One very common source of medical errors is problems with medication—being given the wrong drug, the wrong dose, or a drug that interacts negatively with other food or medications. If a nurse starts to give you a new medication or a different dosage, ask why. Remember—doctors and nurses are human just like the rest of us, and they make mistakes too. Try to be informed and actively involved in your own care to the greatest extent possible. It’s better to appear “high-maintenance” than to have something bad happen while you’re being treated. And be sure to treat all your healthcare providers cordially. It is in your best interest for the hospital staff to be on your side before, during, and after your treatment.

If you need to go into surgery, strike up a conversation with those who are participating. Ensure that they know who you are and what your procedure is supposed to be. By engaging them beforehand, you help them remain focused and alert.


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