Three Guides to Surviving a Hospital Stay

We go to hospitals because we're sick and want to get better, but these days hospitals can make us sicker, or worse. Nursing and other staff shortages, created in large part by stingy reimbursements from managed care, Medicare and Medicaid, mean that patient care can range from spotty to neglectful to life-threatening. According to a 1999 Harvard study, hospitals kill nearly 100,000 people a year because of human or mechanical error.

Increasingly, it's becoming the responsibility of the patient or his or her family and friends to zealously advocate for good care. Responding to this new reality, three new books '“ all by medical professionals '“ offer inside tips on how to not only survive a hospital stay but to come home healthier than when you went in. (Imagine that!)

Dr. Joseph Sacco, author of "Health Smart Hospital Handbook" (Alpha Books, 2003. Price: $1.10 (used) from -- click to order.) is a medical director at New York City's Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center. He presents an insider's view of a hospital's workings and how to negotiate the hospital bureaucracy and work with doctors and staff. Dr. Sacco also offers a detailed primer on diseases; outlines the qualifications of various professionals; and describes tests, medicines and equipment. Sacco stresses that patients may have alternatives to a hospital stay. Doctors admit people for many reasons, he says, "not all of which have to do with the need to be in the hospital."

Thomas A. Sharon, author of "Protect Yourself in the Hospital" (McGraw-Hill, 2003. Price: $12.95 from -- click to order.) is a registered nurse and a legal consultant for malpractice cases. Sharon's guide offers "insider tips for avoiding hospital mistakes," including how to advocate for oneself or a loved one without alienating hospital staff, ways to prevent common conditions like bedsores and hospital-acquired infections, avoiding mishaps in intensive care units, and how to play the "emergency room waiting game." Sharon arms patients or their families with the knowledge to advocate effectively on their own or a love one's behalf.

Dr. David Sherer, author (with co-author Maryann Karinch) of "Dr. David Sherer's Hospital Survival Guide" (Claren Books, 2003. Price: $9.72 from -- click to order.) is an anesthesiologist. Dr. Sherer's contribution to navigating the hospital maze emphasizes surgical hospitalizations, and includes a chapter on what to expect and ask for in his own specialty. He notes that July, when the new interns start, is the most dangerous month to have a procedure done at a teaching hospital. He also presents proven tips for reducing hospital bills and offers a range of suggestions for making hospital stays safer and more pleasant. Sample tip: Request EMLA anesthetic cream to make I.V. starts less painful for children.