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Taking Charge of Your Hospital Stay

Experts explain four steps that empower patients to manage their health needs from a hospital bed.

Step 1: Get to Know Yourself continued...

Burke says it's especially important to have this heart-to-heart talk with your doctor if you have health problems that could worsen significantly over time.

"You not only need to know what to expect, you need to discuss the range of treatment options that are open to you should your condition worsen, " Burke tells WebMD.

In the event that you have to make choices, she says, it's infinitely easier to make the right one if you can draw on previous knowledge about your options.

Also important: While you're talking to your doctor, discuss the task of overseeing your medical care should it become necessary for more than one expert to become involved.

"Sometimes a patient will just assume that their internist or even their specialist will take charge of their hospital care, but this doesn't happen automatically," says Burke.

If this is what you want, she says talk to your doctor beforehand and make sure she or he agrees to play an advisory role, even if your treatment involves other specialists.

Step 2: Make Friendships Count

Whether or not your personal doctor takes charge of your care, experts say you cannot underestimate the importance of having an additional source of support in the form of a friend or relative who can be your health care advocate during a hospital stay.

"It's vital to have someone you can trust to keep an eye on what's going on, to help you make decisions, and to ensure the decisions you make are being communicated properly to those caring for you," says Correoso.

And, she says, you and your friend need to prepare for this as much in advance as possible.

"Have a detailed discussion with the person you choose as your health care advocate, ideally long before hospitalization becomes necessary. And even consider making a written list of what you do and do not want your care to include," Correoso tells WebMD.

Then, she says, trust that the person you have chosen will follow through on your behalf.

"People are funny sometimes. They say they want to trust someone but in reality they really only trust themselves, which is why it's important to choose someone you feel comfortable with and who you can trust. And then trust them!" says Correoso.

If that person is not able to help you when the time comes -- or if you simply don't have anyone to rely on -- Burke tells WebMD that nearly all hospitals have a hierarchy of staff members who can advocate on your behalf.

"It starts with the patient advocate, and most major hospitals have them. And they can not only help you to mediate your grievances but also help to make certain that your rights as a patient are being respected," says Burke.

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