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How To Have A Pain-Free Hospital Stay

This is a guest post from Dr. Anita Gupta.


How To Have A Pain-Free Hospital Stay

Too often patients feel like they’re in the passenger seat when entering the hospital. Even in the best of circumstances — such as planned admissions — patients often don’t feel in control of their own care.

One of the most unnecessary issues facing patients when they enter the hospital is untreated (or undertreated) pain. Often the focus of the medical team is to treat a condition, and controlling a patient’s pain comes second. Fortunately, this doesn’t need to be the situation. Here are a few tips for patients to ensure that their pain does not go overlooked:

Let someone know if you are in pain. This may seem obvious, but patients often hesitate to question their doctor. Pain control during your hospital stay is not a luxury, and you need to know you have a right to pain control during your stay. If you doctor or nurse is not answering your questions regarding pain, ask to see pain specialist who will likely address your concerns as well as the concerns of the doctors and nurses taking care of you. Unfortunately when it comes to treating pain, not all doctors are trained equally.

Have a family member or good friend to act as your advocate. Have this individual get involved in your medical care and act on your behalf during your hospitalization.

Search for the right hospital for your medical condition. People end up at hospitals for a variety of reasons, but which hospital you go to for your care can make all of the difference. There are several websites that rate hospitals including Hospital Compare, HealthGrades, US News and World Report, and Consumer Reports. Many of these sites allow you to compare hospitals on a variety of criteria, including death rates for a variety of conditions — from heart attacks to pneumonia to surgeries. Hospital Compare, a website provided by the Department of Health and Human Services, even allows you to see how patients felt about how their pain was treated during their stay.

Ask questions. Many people are afraid to question their nurses and doctors. Don’t be. If a medication looks new or different, ask what it is and what it is for. As long as you are polite and respectful, your request should be met with acceptance. If you don’t understand something, always question about it. Be assertive.

— Keep a notebook during your hospital stay, and know your medications and allergies. Record your daily progress, pain levels, medication names and dosages, procedures, treatments, and the names and contact information of your medical team. This way you know what is working well for you pain. Also take notes on conversations with doctors and nurses. Carry the most up-to-date list of your allergies with you, along with another list that contains information on all medications you are taking and the dosages.

Meet with your doctors and nurses. Ask your loved one to join you during doctors’ rounds so he or she can also make a list and help you go through your checklist. It’s handy to have someone there to ask questions you may have forgotten. Have your notebook handy. Prepare questions ahead of time about your diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. Show appreciation to your primary nurse. The more good will you express to this professional, the more attention you will receive. More attention translates to the probability of fewer errors.

Avoid medical errors. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year in hospitals due to medical errors. Medication errors are among the most common medical errors, harming at least 1.5 million people every year. Write down your medications and dosages. List what the medication looks like, the shape and color of any pills, and the names on the labels of bottles or IV bags. Holidays, weekends, and nights have higher likelihood of medical errors, so ask your advocate to be with you as much as possible during these times to help avoid medical errors.

Once recovered, leave the hospital as soon as medically possible. While a hospital is the ideal place when you need lifesaving care, it can also create the perfect storm of risks to your health. Hospital-acquired infections, deadly blood clots, falls, and many other “complications” can result from your hospital stay. Every day that you stay in the hospital unnecessarily exposes you to these risks. Ask every person who comes in contact with you, including the physicians and nurses, to wash their hands or put on a fresh pair of disposable gloves before touching you.


Anita Gupta, DO, PharmD, is Assistant Professor in the Division of Pain Medicine in the Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Gupta completed her Doctorate in Pharmacy at Rutgers University and her Medical Degree from University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. She completed her residency in anesthesiology at Georgetown University Hospital where was chief resident and was selected as a regional representative for American Society of Anesthesiology for Washington D.C. During her residency, she completed clinical scientist training and basic science research training at the National Institutes of Health at the National Institute of Heart, Lung and Blood in pharmacology related to immunology and toxicology.

Following residency, Dr. Gupta completed a pain management fellowship from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. Currently Dr. Gupta has continued to be involved in research on the topic of in both pain and anesthesiology and is actively participating in writing articles, reviews, and book chapters on a wide range of topics. She has been a presenter at several anesthesiology and pain forums and won several research awards from her research at the NIH.

Dr. Gupta is currently the co-chair of the American Pain Society’s pharmacotherapy group and also actively presenting research and symposium in the American Academy of Pain Medicine and the American Society of Anesthesiology. As an emerging leader in the field of anesthesiology and pain medicine, Dr. Gupta has been involved in development of budgets related to research protocols and improving cost effectiveness strategies in the division. She is also involved in the leadership of the American Pain Society, for which she is participating in developing and organizing symposiums for the upcoming 30th annual meeting in 2011.

Dr. Gupta is a 2010-2011 fellow with the Mayday Pain & Society Fellowship supported by The Mayday Fund, a New York-based private foundation dedicated to alleviating human physical pain.

Disclosures: Dr. Gupta receives grant/research funding from The France Foundation.

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One Response to “How To Have A Pain-Free Hospital Stay”

  1. Cynthia Bailey MD says:

    This is one of the biggest fears people have when being hospitalized for a surgical procedure or accident. Your article helps empower the patient by giving them an idea of the process and a plan of action. It would make a nice handout to give patients for docs who routinely hospitalize patients.

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