40 Unsettling Secrets About Hospitals That Most Patients Probably Don’t Know

There is, of course, never a good time to get sick. But at least we can generally expect top-quality care in our local hospitals from trained professionals. That said, medical staff know a lot of dark secrets that will shock you about their workplaces. So here are 40 things that they probably won’t tell you during your visit – straight from the medical professionals themselves.

40. Avoid hospitals that don’t teach students

Dr. Evan Levine, MD, who is a cardiologist with ProHealth Physicians Cardiology in Danbury, Connecticut, suggests choosing a teaching hospital for complicated operations. He told wellbeing website The Healthy in October 2019 that they “usually stay at the forefront of health research. Medical students and residents ask questions – providing more eyes and ears to pay attention and prevent errors. Teaching hospitals have lower complication rates and better outcomes.”

39. July is the worst time to get sick in a teaching hospital

Though it may be preferable to visit the aforementioned institutions, some medical professionals will recommend that you avoid them at certain times of the year. An unnamed nurse supervisor at a New Jersey hospital told The Healthy in November 2019, “If you have a choice, don’t go into a teaching hospital in July. That’s when the new crop of residents starts, and they’re pretty clueless.”

38. Treatment might be better earlier in the week

If you’re scheduled to be in hospital for a while, aim for an operation time early in the week. That’s according to Roy Benaroch, MD, who is a pediatrician at Pediatric Physicians in Roswell and Alpharetta, Georgia. Hospitals operate with lower staff numbers over weekends and through holidays. Some diagnostic services and lab tests might not even be available during those times. So, he added, try to schedule operations when there’s more staff around for your recovery period.

37. Do not distract nurses as they prep your meds

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Some nurses are open to hearing about what’s going on in your life or with your family. But do it at your own risk as they tend to talk among themselves. It’s also best to avoid being too chatty if they are prepping your medication. Linda Bell, who is a clinical practice specialist at the American Association of Critical Care Nurses, added, “The more conversation there is, the more potential [there is] for error.”

36. Occasionally nurses can get your medication wrong

Of course, distraction isn’t the only factor which can cause medical staff to make mistakes with your medication. Arizona nurse Donna F. Brown told Eat This, Not That! in December 2019, “Stress and long hours are reasons why nurses may not have the time to check if they’ve given patients the proper doses of medicine.” Staff can also sometimes miss a change in drug or dosage in the doctor’s notes, or even misread the wrong medicine with a similar name.

35. Nurses shield you from the chaos of hospitals

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There is a large-scale shortage of qualified nurses in the U.S. Many work long hours, undertake double shifts and often stay on for 12-hour stretches. But that’s not what care staff want you to see. As registered nurse Catherine Burger explained to Eat This, Not That! “From the change of shifts to the supply management to the changing room assignments, nurses hope that patients only see a well-oiled machine and not the never-ending frustration that the nurses are enduring.”

34. Nurses play down the most serious of injuries

Working in a hospital can, of course, be pretty gruesome. An unnamed Texan nurse described to The Healthy, “I’ve had people blow out arteries in front of me, where I know the patient could bleed to death within minutes. I’ve had people with brains literally coming out of their head. No matter how worried I am, I’ll say calmly, ‘Hmmm, let me give the doctor a call and have him come look at that.’”

33. Nurses sometimes speak in code

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A nurse won’t always speak their mind – especially in front of a colleague on a higher salary. Bell told the publication, “We’re not going to tell you your doctor is incompetent, but if I say, ‘You have the right to a second opinion,’ that can be code for ‘I don’t like your doctor’ or ‘I don’t trust your doctor.’”

32. Sometimes nurses defy doctors’ orders

A nurse may, on occasion, act against what a doctor has prescribed. However, it’s always in the interests of the patient. An anonymous nurse from Texas revealed to The Healthy, “When a patient is terminally ill, sometimes the doctor won’t order enough pain medication. If the patient is suffering, we’ll sometimes give more than what the doctor said and ask him later to change the order.”

31. Medical staff silently judge you for not getting help sooner

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Nurses will never reveal what they think of you for putting off getting medical advice. One unnamed nurse and blogger told the publication, “I’d never tell a patient that he was stupid for waiting a week for his stroke symptoms to improve before coming to the hospital. Although I’d like to. Especially if his wife then complains that we’re not doing anything for the guy.”

30. Staff know when you’re overdoing the pain factor

Nurses may be busy but they often still see you even when you think they’re not looking. An anonymous New York City nurse told The Healthy, “If you’re happily texting and laughing with your friends until the second you spot me walking into your room, I’m not going to believe that your pain is a ten out of ten.”

29. Nurses can pick up on the oversights of senior staff

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Nurses are vital to a patient’s well-being, and it’s not unusual for them to query decisions made by doctors. As one Pennsylvania nurse explained, “We question physicians’ orders more often than you might think. Some of the mistakes I’ve headed off [are]: a physician who forgot to order a medication that the patient was taking at home, a doctor who ordered the incorrect diet for a diabetic, and one who tried to perform a treatment on the wrong patient.”

28. Their job is more than just healthcare

There’s a lot of admin involved in nursing today, and filling in forms incorrectly could cause problems. A nurse who works in a Californian intensive care unit admitted, “We spend hours at the computer just clicking boxes. They tell us, ‘If it wasn’t charted, it didn’t happen.’ So, I always chart with a jury in the back of my mind.”

27. Nurses love social calls from recovered patients

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“If you’ve been a patient in a unit for a long time, come back and visit. We’ll remember you, and we’d love to see you healthy,” an anonymous California intensive care nurse told The Healthy. You never know, they might be having a stressful time and seeing a recovered patient could be the motivation they need to keep going.

26. Nurses might not hear you sometimes

A lot of medical staff will work off of an electronic device, since that’s the easiest way to access a patient’s records. They can sometimes seem distracted while you’re describing your symptoms or how you feel. If you feel like they’re not really hearing you, demand their attention so they haven’t missed anything.

25. Doctors may think you understand things when you don’t

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Understanding what a medical professional has explained to you can be crucial – they may use terminology you’re unfamiliar with. Indeed, former nurse at the Beth Abraham Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Queens, NY, outlined how risky a misunderstanding can be. She told The Healthy, “I once heard a doctor telling his patient that the tumor was benign, and the patient thought that benign meant that he had cancer. That patient was my dad. It was one of the things that inspired me to become a nurse.”

24. Nurses want to know when you’re hurting

When asked if you’re in pain you should describe everything – no matter how trivial it might seem. As nurse Mary Pat Aust, RN, explained to the publication, “For some reason, when I ask, ‘Are you having pain?’ a lot of patients say no, even if they are. But I’ve found that if I say, ‘Are you uncomfortable?’ people are much more likely to say yes. Please tell us if you’re in pain. We have all sorts of medications we can use to help you.”

23. Medical professionals can read you like a book

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Patients might feel awkward opening up to strangers about their most intimate issues. But remember that nurses have probably seen similar cases numerous times before and are there to help – not judge. They’ll have ways to help you to relax. Registered Arizona nurse Donna F. Brown told Eat This, Not That! “We are with the patient most of the day, and we know what is going on with them better than anyone else.”

22. Some nurses don’t believe how much you drink or smoke

Medical issues can be embarrassing enough. But a patient might feel more ashamed if their condition is self-inflicted – for instance through smoking or drinking. But medical staff often know better. An unnamed long-standing Texan nurse told The Healthy, “When you tell me how much you drink or smoke or how often you do drugs, I automatically double or triple it.”

21. It’s not always appropriate for nurses to reveal the whole truth

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Sometimes medical staff will have hold off on certain bits of information regarding the details behind the death of a recently deceased loved one. Catherine Burger explained to Eat This, Not That! “Nurses sometimes withhold to family members the fact that a patient needs to be placed on a ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ order. Families are usually too close to the situation and managing their own grief to fully comprehend how traumatic CPR is for an ill or frail patient.”

20. Google is their enemy, and sometimes their friend

Some patients might turn to popular online search engines to check out their symptoms. For example, is their complaint severe enough to justify going to a doctor? One New York City labor and delivery nurse added, “Most patients are fantastic and we are always happy to help them. But when patients are Googling symptoms and ignorantly quote it without understanding, it could make our lives difficult.” But that doesn’t mean the medical professionals aren’t afraid of occasionally glancing at Google themselves, of course.

19. Doctors perform better when they’re there for the entire operation

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Research suggests that doctors who are involved in all steps of surgery have a greater success rate. ProPublica reporter Marshall Allen told The Healthy, “The surgeon who performed the best in our complication rate analysis said he and his partner drape their patients, do the whole operation, and close the incision themselves. He said, ‘I just know nobody is going to do it as carefully as I’m going to.’ Check whether your doctor will be doing your entire procedure and whether she will do your follow-up care.”

18. A doctor might not be able to give you their undivided attention during surgery

Sometimes a doctor’s time may be split between you and another patient. Surgeon at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Dr. Marty Makary, MD, told The Healthy, “Your surgeon may be doing someone else’s surgery at the same time as yours. We’re talking about complex, long, highly skilled operations that are scheduled completely concurrently, so your surgeon is not present for half of yours or more. Many of us have been concerned about this for decades. Ask about it beforehand.”

17. Doctors are encouraged to prescribe unnecessary treatment

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Many hospitals offer bonuses to doctors if they manage to treat more patients. Dr. Makary told The Healthy, “I hear from surgeons all the time whose bosses are basically beating on them to do more operations. While some hospital systems have moved to flat salaries, most still provide bonuses for more volume. Doctors have an incentive for over-treatment.”

16. Bills may contain hidden costs

If a physician does an assessment with extra consultants in tow, the cost of that additional care may show up on your hospital bill. Furthermore, if those consultants are brought in from outside the hospital’s network, it could cost even more. And even if staff essential to an operation are from outside the hospital, their charges may be inflated.

15. Bills can also contain errors

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In addition to potentially unnecessary padding, your final bill may contain an administrative error. Pat Palmer, co-founder of MedExpense Solutions, told The Healthy, “Eight out of ten hospital bills we see contain an error, so check your bill carefully. You may identify a drug you didn’t take. Or you know that you discontinued a treatment on Tuesday, but you were charged for Wednesday. The number on the bill is only a starting point. Try to negotiate for 35 to 50 percent off the charges.”

14. Patients should keep a log of their experience in hospital

One way to check your bill is to take notes of everything that happens during your hospital stay. It can also help keep your head clear. If you’re overwhelmed by information and what conversations you’ve had with whom, it might help make sense of it all. And you can put down any questions you might have for the doctor’s next visit.

13. Hospitals are beginning to look like hotels

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Increasingly, hospitals are facing competition from other health care institutions and need to appeal to patients. Columbus-based healthcare I.T. consultant Bill Balderaz explained to The Healthy, “Hospitals worry about losing revenue to retail clinics, urgent-care centers and private surgery centers. To attract patients, they try to appear like hotels. They have waterfalls, pianos, and big windows. Instead of hiring people with backgrounds in health care, they’re bringing in people with experience in retail and five-star hotels.”

12. Nursing is changing into a customer service industry

The focus of patient care is shifting. Author of The Shift and practicing nurse Theresa Brown, RN, told The Healthy, “Because Medicare has put more emphasis on the results of patient satisfaction surveys, hospitals are pushing us to emphasize customer service. It makes me worry we will do what we can to make people happy in place of what we should. To say that you need to focus on getting this person’s dinner right even though your other patient needs his chemo hung – that’s not right.”

11. Doctors hate the cost of medical care, too

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General surgeon at Burnett Medical Center in Grantsburg, Wisconsin, N. Hans Rechsteiner, MD, relayed a particularly difficult story regarding medical charges. He told the publication, “One time, I ran into a patient I had performed a simple appendectomy on. He thanked me for saving his life, then told me it almost ruined him because he couldn’t pay the bill. Four hours in the hospital and they charged him $12,000, and that didn’t even include my fee. I showed his bill to some other doctors. We took out an ad in the newspaper demanding change.”

10. Staff sometimes find body parts lying around

To some doctors, productivity is apparently more important than cleanliness, according to an NYC nurse talking to Eat This, Not That! they said, “In order to make more surgeries, [doctors] try to cut the time between operations. To speed up the process and save time, surgeons sometimes ‘help’ to clean up the operating room themselves. So occasionally you can find a piece of human fat under the operating table. Unfortunately, hospitals allow that kind of practice. These doctors bring a lot of money!”

9. Doctors’ time is often wasted on managed-care companies

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Some medical professionals spend a lot of time justifying to managed-care firms what treatment they’re giving a patient and why. Dr. Sam Klagsbrun, MD, executive medical director of Four Winds Hospital in Katonah, NY, admitted to The Healthy, “This morning, I spent 30 minutes explaining why I’m giving a patient a particular medicine. Those doctors don’t know who the patient is, yet I have to persuade them to allow me to do what I believe is in the best interests of the patient.”

8. Hospitals contain germs that nurses don’t want in their own homes

Nurses, as well as cleaning staff, do what they can to keep hospitals clean. But, veteran nurse Gina argued, “… Hospitals are still filthy and full of drug-resistant germs. I don’t even bring my shoes into the house when I get home.” And they’re repulsed when visitors allow their kids to play on the floor; after all, hospital staff know exactly what horrors have hit the deck.

7. Beware of the hospital cuisine

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Some hospitals may be taking on the appearance of hotels, but don’t expect five-star treatment when it comes to the menu. Catering staff don’t know what your illness is or what medication you’re taking. Dr. Evan Levine explained to The Healthy, “I’ve had patients on drugs for hypertension or heart failure – which raises potassium levels – and the hospital is delivering potassium-rich bananas and orange juice.” So to be safe, ask nurses if there are any foods you should avoid.

6. Nurses can sometimes be gross

Patients that nurses tend to might have incontinence issues, or they may be undergoing bowel procedures to prepare them for surgery. An unnamed NYC nurse told Eat This, Not That! “Sometimes during positioning a patient, when lifting their legs up, accidents will happen and doctors or nurses could end up with a piece of poop on their clogs. There’s no time to clean it before the end of the procedure so we have to keep working – ignoring the mess.”

5. A nurse’s workload is relentless

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Deborah Burger, who is co-president of National Nurses United described to The Healthy, “Hospitals often force nurses to handle more patients than they should – even though studies show if your nurse is responsible for fewer patients, they have better outcomes.” Indeed, a study by Linda Aiken at the University of Pennsylvania found that for every patient above an established nurse-patient ratio, the patient’s risk of death increased by seven percent.

4. There’s a reason your nurse might be in a bad mood

Nurses operate in high-stress environments at a frenetic pace and with few breaks – so they might miss meals. Furthermore, the irregularity of their eating habits can cause them to get hungry. Talking to Eat This, Not That! Donna F. Brown said, “Nurses repeatedly are not eating at the right time. They go long hours without eating, which causes low blood sugar syndrome. It makes them fatigued, angry, irritable, almost hostile.”

3. Nurses “call out sick” after tough shifts

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One particular NYC operating room nurse recalled a brutal 16-hour shift one night to the health publication. A patient was apparently in a particularly bad way with inadequate staff on duty to provide the care they needed. Struggling to handle the patient solo, the nurse complained, “As a nurse, you’re completely on your own – without help from your co-workers! It’s a very dangerous situation. This is why nurses call out sick for mental recharge after those difficult shifts.”

2. A nurse will never give up on a patient

Silicon Valley nurse practitioner Barb Dehn, RN, NP, relayed an unforgettable experience she’d had caring for a child in a coma. With chances of recovery diminishing after a week, she recalled a trick that she’d once read about. She explained to The Healthy, “I told his mom, ‘Put your perfume on a diaper and hold it up by his nose to see if it will trigger something.’ The child woke up three hours later. It was probably a coincidence, but it was one of my best moments as a nurse.”

1. The one secret which keeps nurses going

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By now, nursing might seem like a bad career choice. It’s physically and mentally demanding and they have to detach themselves from highly emotional situations working long hours and challenging shifts. They deal with difficult patients and sometimes even tougher senior staff. Nevertheless, they persevere for one principal reason: they love their job. As pediatric nurse Valerie Nisewarmer described to Eat This, Not That! “[I’ve] had the most rewarding career for 48 years and counting. I would not change a day.”

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