What Nurses Wish You Knew

Forget the doctors. Who knows what really goes on in a hospital? The nurses. We convened dozens of the region's best and asked them everything we've always wondered about: How can I get the most out of the health-care system? How do I choose an end-of-life advocate? What do you think of Google-diagnosing? How about "Nurse Jackie"? And are you going to get mad at me if I buzz you again?

5 // Go ahead and Google // We thought nurses would hate patients who Google to self-diagnose, but they were cool with it. They even do it themselves and say it can help patients feel they have more control over what’s going on. They do caution that when people self-diagnose, they sometimes don’t seek proper care. Your best bet: Use the Web to arm yourself with questions for a living, breathing health-care professional, says Nancy Marie Valentine of Main Line Health: “Even if you’re not using the best resources, it gives you something to ask about.”

6 // Become your RN’s BFF // The number of scrub-bedecked folks scurrying in and out of a hospital room can make anyone’s head spin. Thankfully, there’s only one person you need to get to know during your stay. “It’s the nurse who knows what’s going on,” says Kathleen Gorman, chief nursing officer at CHOP. Rely on your RN to answer your questions, break down “doctor-speak” and address your concerns and fears.

7 // Germaphobes rule // There’s a reason hospitals smell of Lysol: Sick people and germs are tighter than mac and cheese. If medical staffers aren’t washing or disinfecting every time they touch you, warns Victoria L. Rich, chief nursing executive at UPenn’s medical center campus, they’ll pass those germs on to you. Even when health-care professionals say they wash their hands, only half actually do—and that includes doctors. If you don’t see your nurses and doctors wash up, politely ask them to. (Visitors, too!)

8 // You should be asking questions // It’s true: Nurses want you to ask questions. In fact, peppering them with queries is the first step toward better care. Plus, you’ll be less anxious if you understand what’s going on. And being informed prevents mistakes, especially when nurses are busy. Just as you’re taught to be a defensive driver, you have to be a defensive patient, says Nancy Marie Valentine: “You’re in an environment with a lot of moving parts and different people.” Which means, adds Lankenau’s Margaret Iacobacci, “You should feel comfortable asking questions like, ‘Is that the medication I’m supposed to get?’”

9 // They’re gonna figure everything out anyway, so you may as well ‘fess up // There’s nothing more human than wanting to hide beneath a hospital bed rather than discuss the intimate workings of your body or admit you haven’t been following the doctor’s orders. But fudging about symptoms and unhealthy behavior won’t keep nurses from finding you out; it will just lead to more tests, a longer stay and a higher bill. “A lot of times, patients say something like, ‘I don’t know why I’m GI bleeding. I don’t drink,’” Michael Becker says. “They mean they only drink a fifth a day. Or they don’t tell you they break their pills in quarters because they can’t afford them.” Nothing you say will shock nurses—and they need to know the truth.