Nights and weekends in hospitals can mean contending with the sparse staffing and slowed pace that can delay a response. Studies of hospitalized patients have found higher rates of errors and poorer outcomes for those treated at night or on the weekend compared with the day shift.
Here are some suggestions offered by experts to help patients and families protect themselves:
--Ask if the hospital employs hospitalists or nocturnists, doctors who specialize in treating inpatients. Check to see if a fully experienced physician, not just a resident, is on duty and at the hospital at night outside of the emergency room.
--If there is no experienced doctor on duty, ask how problems at night will be handled.
--Keep after-hours contact information for your doctor. While the doctor may not see you in the hospital, a call from him r her can expedite a response.
--Make sure to have an advocate present, especially the first night after surgery. Relatives or private duty nurses can spend the night in the room and be invaluable in summoning help, checking medication and helping things run more smoothly. Have visitors on weekends in shifts when staffing is sparse.
--Ask questions. Don't automatically assume you're getting the proper medication or the correct test.
--If possible, don't schedule surgery for a Friday so that you're not stuck in the hospital over the weekend.
--Take your list of medications to the hospital, along with relevant records.
--If something goes wrong, insist that a doctor in charge be called. Be persistent and if necessary ask to speak to a supervisor.
Sources: Consumer Reports Safe Patient Project; Chelko Consulting Group