Your hospital survival guide

by Karen A. Friedman, MD and Sara L. Merwin, MPH

To get the best care, you need to know how hospitals work.

Over 250,000 Americans die from hospital-related medical errors every year, making it the third leading cause of death, according to some estimates. Now two hospital insiders have joined forces to give patients like you—and your advocates—the tools and inside information you need to get the best care in a hospital setting, whether you're being seen in the Emergency Department (ER) or admitted for an elective surgery, and everything in between.


Tip #1

Bring a list of medications and list of your current and past medical illnesses and surgeries with you.


Tip #2

Ask every hospital provider and staff person to identify themselves and their role in your care.


Tip #3

To prevent infections, confirm that the provider or staff person has washed their hands before you let them touch you. 

Learn how to be your own best advocate

The Informed Patient helps you navigate the hospital departments,  healthcare staff, and tests and procedures you'll encounter most often during an ER visit or surgical admission. Here's a small sample of what you'll learn.

The Emergency Department (ER)

When a sudden illness, accident or injury lands you in the ER, it's only natural to be frightened and confused—especially if you've never been hospitalized before. The Informed Patient guides you through the arrival, triage, diagnosis, treatment and discharge or admission to help you make your ER visit less confusing and stressful.

Tests and Procedures

In the hospital, it may seem as though you're constantly poked and prodded for fresh specimens. Laboratory testing, imaging and procedures are part of nearly every hospital experience. The Informed Patient will educate you about the various lab tests and procedures that may be ordered, why they may be ordered, and what the results may mean.

Your Care Team

Many different professionals and staff, on different shifts, may be involved in your care. When everyone's wearing scrubs or white coats, it can be hard to figure out the cast of characters in your hospital room, especially if they don't introduce themselves. The Informed Patient will help you sort out who's who, and who's responsible for what, and how to figure out who's in charge.


Whether you're going to the hospital for a planned hip or knee replacement, or end up in the ER as the result of an injury or illness and need emergency surgery, The Informed Patient will help you understand pre-op testing, what happens in the hours before surgery, how you'll recover afterwards, and what you can do to prevent surgical complications and errors, so you can focus on healing.

The Intensive Care Unit (ICU)

After a heart attack or stroke, serious illness, or complex surgery like an organ transplant, you may need life-saving critical care. The Informed Patient shares what to expect if you or a family member is admitted to an intensive care unit, and explains monitoring, ventilation, sedation, infection control, nutrition, and other protocols for patients in the ICU,

Terminology and Jargon

Medical professionals sometimes seem to speak a foreign language. The endless abbreviations and medical jargon can be complicated and confusing. The Informed Patient includes a comprehensive glossary that translates "medspeak" into plain English, so you can understand what your care team is saying.

Meet the Authors

Karen A. Friedman, MD

Karen A. Friedman, MD

Dr. Karen Friedman MD MS FACP is the Vice Chair for Education and Residency Program Director for the Zucker School of Medicine program in the Internal Medicine program at Northwell Health. She received her MD degree from SUNY Downstate and her Masters in Health Professions Pedagogy and Leadership from Hofstra University. She has been on faculty in the Department of Medicine at North Shore Hospital as a Hospitalist since 2005 and is an Associate Professor of Medicine. Dr. Friedman's career and research has been dedicated to medical education. She is widely published in prestigious medical journals and presents nationally to both professional and lay audiences.

Sara L. Merwin, MPH

Sara L. Merwin, MPH

Author and speaker Sara L. Merwin received her MPH degree in epidemiology from the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and has worked as a clinical researcher at Northwell Health System and Montefiore Medical Center. She has held faculty appointments at Zucker Hofstra School of Medicine and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Her experience includes investigations in orthopaedic and cardiothoracic surgery, internal medicine, endocrinology, geriatrics, critical care and pulmonary medicine. She has published and presents nationally. Her career and research focus includes patient and professional education and communication.</p> <p>

Need a speaker?

Co-authors Karen A. Friedman, M.D., and Sara L. Merwin, MPH, offer educational talks for patients, advocates, healthcare practitioners and facility managers. Contact us for availability and fees to bring either or both authors to your event.