Hospital Survival Guide

  • ThirdAge interviewed Maryanne McGuckin, Dr. ScEd, author of "The Patient Survival Guide: 8 Simple Solutions to Prevent Hospital and Healthcare Associated Infections," to learn tips that can ensure a safe hospital stay for you and your loved ones. Dr. McGuckin is the founder and President of McGuckin Methods International, which she established in 1984 with the goal of increasing hand hygiene compliance as well as other strategies for preventing hospital acquired infections and for avoiding mishaps.

    "My experience during the past 30 years in health care has taught me that the missing link in making an impact on reducing these problems is the patient," she says.

    Here, to empower you, whether you're the patient or concerned friend or family member, are Dr. McGuckin's lifesavers . . .

  • Know Your Surgeon's Complication Rate. Before you schedule elective surgery, ask about your prospective surgeon's complication and infection rate. Also, insist on not having a resident perform your surgery. Residents are not only inexperienced but they are typically sleep deprived. A recent study found that they are more fatigued than expected, especially on night rotations. A quarter of their waking time, they proved to be the equivalent of legally drunk, the study said, and this finding predicted a 22% incidence of medical errors.
  • Have an Advocate Stay With You. Before you are admitted, line up a tag team of family and friends who can stay with you and advocate for you when you're too sick or too tired or too medicated to speak for yourself. Brief your advocates on all the tips you'll learn in this slideshow. You may even want to print out a list. Also, remember that there is Rapid Response button by the hospital bed. In an emergency, workers will rush to your room if your advocate summons them with that button.
  • Make Sure Everyone Washes Hands. The single most important way to keep the MRSA superbugs from infecting you is to make sure all people who come into contact with you wash their hands thoroughly. This includes visitors, but don't take it for granted that hospital workers will wash up. Studies have shown that a shocking 50% of them don't wash their hands as they move from one patient to the next.
  • Ask for a Bath Every Day of Your Stay. MRSA is colonized everywhere, so be absolutely certain that you are bathed every day with either soap and water or chlorohexidine wipes. Have your advocate help you insist on this simple but important precauton.
  • Sign an Informed Consent Form. Read the informed consent form carefully and have your advocate study it as well. Incidentally, you can write in your request not to have your procedure performed by a resident.
  • Insist on Safe Pre-Op Procedures. Shaving the surgical site is extremely dangerous because tiny nicks can be entryways for germs. This has been known for years but you may still have to refuse to be shaved. Also, make certain you get your antibiotic a full hour before you are wheeled into the OR.
  • Prevent Pneumonia When You're on a Ventilator. The best way to avoid getting pneumonia when you are on respirator is to be sure you have oral care. You mouth is teeming with bacteria, yet studies have found that oral care can be as low as 30%. Be sure your advocate helps you get the attention you need. Pneumonia will result in an average of 14 extra days and $46,000. Not only that, but pneumonia is fatal for 11% of patients.
  • Ask Whether You Still Need Your Catheter.. Do you really need that catheter? The order to remove it is often overlooked by busy hospital workers -- or the order may not even have been written. Every day you have it in ups your chance of getting an infection by 3 to 7%.
  • Have the Head of the Bed Raised in the ICU. When you're in the Intensive Care Unit, make sure -- or have your advocate make sure -- that the head of the bed is raised 30%. You'll be safer at this angle. Hospital workers know this but often ignore the rule. Get your advocate to speak up for you!

    We hope you'll follow all of Dr. McGuckin's survival strategies. The life you save may be your own!