Talking with Your Doctor

Hospital Stays and ER Visits

Talking with a doctor during a hospital stay or in the emergency room (ER) can be stressful at any age. This section has tips to help you.

What To Bring to the Hospital

It’s best to bring as little as you can to the hospital. You will need

  • bathrobe and slippers (put your name on each item); most hospitals provide special bed clothes
  • comfortable clothes to wear home (they may be the clothes you wore to the hospital)
  • toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, comb and brush, deodorant, and your own razor
  • your hearing aids, dentures, and glasses
  • a little cash (not more than $10) and a credit card that a family member or friend can keep for you
  • books or magazines.

Make sure you bring your health insurance card. If you don’t have health insurance, talk with the admissions staff about other payment methods and sources of financial aid.

Remember to bring photo identification and updated information about

  • past illnesses and surgeries
  • your medicines, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs
  • your allergies
  • names and telephone numbers (home and business) to contact in an emergency.

See what to expect when you're hospitalized.

Hospital Schedules

If you have to go to the hospital, some extra guidelines may help you. First, most hospitals have a daily schedule. Knowing the hospital routine can make your stay more comfortable. Find out how much choice you have about your daily routine and express any preferences you have about your schedule. Doctors generally visit patients during specific times each day. Find out when the doctor is likely to visit so you can have your questions ready.

In the hospital, your primary doctor and various medical specialists, as well as nurses and other health professionals, may examine you. If you are in a teaching hospital, doctors-in-training known as medical students, interns, residents, or fellows also may examine you. Many of these doctors-in-training already have a lot of knowledge and experience. They may be able to take more time to talk with you than other staff. Nurses also can be an important source of information, especially since you will see them often.

Questions for the Hospital Staff

Questions you may want to ask your nurses or other medical staff in the hospital:

  • How long do you think I will be in the hospital?
  • What doctors and other medical staff will take care of my health?
  • When will I see my doctor?
  • What will be my daily schedule during my hospital stay?

Questions for Your Doctor or Nurse

During your hospital stay, you may have questions about what’s happening. Keep a pad and pen by your hospital bed to write down questions you want to ask your doctor or nurse. For example:

  • What will this test tell me? Why is it needed, and when will I know the results?
  • What treatment is needed, and how long will it last?
  • What are the benefits and risks of treatment?
  • When can I go home?
  • When I go home, will I have to change my regular activities or my diet?
  • How often will I need checkups?
  • Is any other follow-up needed?
  • Who should I call if I have other questions?

What to Bring to the ER

A visit to the ER can be especially stressful. It may go more smoothly if you can take along

  • your health insurance card or policy number
  • a list of your medications
  • a list of your health problems
  • the names and phone numbers of your doctor and one or two family members or friends.

Some people find it helpful to have this information with them at all times.

Depending on the problem, you may have a long wait in the emergency room. Consider taking things to make the wait more comfortable, such as something to read and a sweater in case the room is cold.

During your ER visit, ask questions if you do not know what a doctor or other medical staff is doing, such as what medical tests are being done. Make sure you understand what the ER doctor tells you about your health, or ask him or her to write it down.

Also, make sure you know if there is anything special you need to do after you go home from the ER. For example, if you have a bandage, find out when and how to change it. Tell your regular doctor(s) as soon as possible about your visit to the ER.

Questions for the ER Staff

Questions you may want to ask medical staff in the ER:

  • Will you talk to my regular doctor about my care?
  • Do I need to make special doctor visits for my health problem?
  • Can you write down what I need to do to care for my health problem?
  • Is there someone who speaks my language and can explain what I need to do for my health problem? (If you speak a different language.)