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Common Problems Patients Face in the Hospital

Understand your hospital risks and ask these vital questions -- to keep those risks in check.

Hospital Risk No. 1: Medication Errors continued...

Then, after surgery, ask questions. When a nurse comes to give you medicine, ask what it is and why you need it, says Dale Bratzler, DO, MPH, medical director at the Oklahoma Foundation for Medical Quality in Oklahoma City. Make sure the nurse checks your ID bracelet against the name on the prescription.

"If you ever feel like something's wrong, you have to speak up," says Griffin. She's talked to nurses who said that they were about to administer the wrong medication or dose and were only stopped because the patient asked them to double-check." Just by saying something, they averted what could have been very serious medication errors," Griffin says.

Hospital Risk No. 2: MRSA and Other Hospital-Acquired Infections

Another top hospital risk is infection with bacteria or a virus. Hospitals are loaded with nasty bugs. According to the CDC, there are 1.7 million health-care-associated infections every year; 22% are infections of surgical wounds. Even more -- 32% -- are urinary tract infections. The rest are infections of the lungs, blood, and other parts of the body.

One of the most frightening hospital infections you can pick up is MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) -- a type of staph infection that's resistant to many antibiotics. A 2007 study by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC)suggested that almost one out of every 20 hospital patients is either infected with MRSA or carries it.

"The risk of MRSA is growing," says Clancy. "It's getting more common and more resistant to antibiotics."

So what can you do? First, ask whether you'll be getting antibiotics before and after surgery to lower your risk. Then after surgery, the best protection is simple: don't let people touch you until you have seen them wash their hands. That goes for everyone -- including doctors and nurses.

Now of course, you might feel intimidated by the idea of scolding your doctor for his bad hygiene. But experts say that your doctor or nurse shouldn't have any problem with it -- especially if you ask nicely.

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