10 Important Questions You Should Ask When You’re in the Hospital

Older couple in hospital

No one enjoys being hospitalized. It’s a frightening and vulnerable experience. However, knowing the right questions to ask can help ease the confusion and uncertainty.

10 Questions to Ask

  1. Who's the doctor in charge of me? You'll be cared for by a team of doctors and nurses, not your family doctor. The attending physician is your "go-to" doctor who understands the big picture and who discharges you from the hospital.

  2. What's my problem? The attending physician should explain things so you can understand your diagnosis and care plan. Never feel shy to ask the doctor to repeat the explanation AND to include a family member for another pair of ears. When a diagnosis is not made right away, keep asking.

  3. What will happen next? Knowing the care plan reduces your feeling of being caught off guard. Ask this question each day. Keeping a diary is helpful.

  4. I don't like that plan. Can I choose another? Your doctor has an ethical and legal duty to explain the other options and potential results. Again, including a family member and keeping notes may help you understand what’s been said. All patients have clear rights when it comes to care.

  5. Can I refuse a test or a doctor to see me? Yes. Often a patient declines a test, operation, or a doctor because of unclear information. A conversation with the attending physician is helpful, knowing you can still decline.

  6. When am I going home? As soon as you're admitted, the attending physician estimates your discharge date. Having a goal for everyone is important. The discharge date can be changed depending on how you respond to treatment.

  7. What changes in medications do I have to know about? Medication changes often cause the greatest confusion, which is why keeping a diary is helpful. It’s important to understand the final choices. Doses will be given to you in writing when you’re discharged, and the list will be sent to your primary doctor and everyone involved in your post-hospital care.

  8. What is my out-of-pocket cost for being in the hospital? A question your doctor is unlikely to be able to answer, but one that your insurance company can because the cost varies depending on your insurance. Call your insurance plan or ask a family member to do so. Doctors are interested and sensitive to this issue and many times are able to find creative ways to save costs.

  9. Am I being observed or admitted? A product of Healthcare Reform, "observation status" means you're expected to be discharged within 24 hours. Many insurers, including Medicare, regard observation status as Part B or outpatient services. If you’re unexpectedly in the hospital for more than 24 hours, you’re usually changed to full admission status because observation status would cost you more.

  10. What must I look out for after being discharged? You'll get specific instructions on symptoms such as fever or pain, which would be alarming enough to call your family doctor or go to the emergency room. Your attending physician will make every effort to provide your primary-care doctor with details of your hospital stay so he or she will be able to handle the majority of concerns. Ideally, immediately upon discharge, your primary-care doctor becomes the team leader.

author name

Christopher T. Addis, MD

Christopher T. Addis, MD, is an internal medicine specialist with LG Health Physicians Hospitalists.

Education: Medical School—Penn State College of Medicine; Internship and Residency—University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

Call: 717-544-8144

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