How to protect yourself

Nights and weekends in hospitals can mean contending with “the weekend effect” — the sparse staffing and slower pace that can delay a response. Studies of hospitalized patients have found higher rates of errors and poorer outcomes for those treated at night or on the weekend compared with the day shift.

Here are some suggestions offered by experts to help patients and families protect themselves:

•  Ask if the hospital employs hospitalists or nocturnists, doctors who specialize in treating inpatients. Check to see if a fully experienced physician, not just a resident, is on duty and at the hospital at night outside the emergency room.

• If there is no experienced doctor on duty, ask how problems at night will be handled.

•  Keep after-hours contact information for your doctor. While the doctor may not see you in the hospital, a call from him or her can expedite a response.

•  Make sure to have an advocate present, especially the first night after surgery. Relatives or private duty nurses can spend the night in the room and be invaluable in summoning help, checking medication and helping things run more smoothly. Space out weekend visitors so the patient has company throughout the day.

•  Ask questions. Don’t automatically assume you’re getting the proper medication or the correct test.

• If possible, don’t schedule surgery for a Friday.

•  Take your list of medications to the hospital, along with relevant records.

• If something goes wrong, insist that a doctor in charge be called. Be persistent and, if necessary, ask to speak to a supervisor.

Sandra G. Boodman

Sources: Consumer Reports Safe Patient Project; Chelko Consulting Group