Be an Informed Patient this flu season


Hopefully, you’re not dealing with the flu, but if you are, authors Sara L. Merwin, MPH, and Karen A. Friedman, MD, have some handy tips in their patient-centric book The Informed Patient: A Complete Guide to a Hospital Stay.

As we’re all seeing and hearing on the news at the moment, we’re smack dab in the middle of the worst flu season for some time. Bear in mind that the late fall and winter months usually have the longest wait times for a bed. 

Here’s a helpful description of what flu is, just in case you’re not quite sure:

During the fall and winter months in particular, hospitals must take special precautions to guard against influenza (flu) due to its ability to spread rapidly and its life-threatening potential for certain patient groups (the very young, the elderly and immunocompromised). The flu is a highly contagious virus that is usually spread through the air by coughing or sneezing. It may also be transmitted by touching a surface contaminated with the virus. During active flu season, it is also important that health care providers wash their hands before and after seeing each patient to kill influenza that gets on the skin. To prevent contracting and spreading airborne flu, health care providers will wear masks to protect themselves. Most hospitals have protocols in place for all personnel to be vaccinated against the flu and to display this vaccination status on their ID badges. It is now required in some hospitals for providers and staff who did not get the flu shot to wear a mask at all times while in patient areas.  During flu season, patients who did not receive a flu vaccine prior to admission may be offered a vaccine at the time of discharge. [p. 115]

If you do sadly end up in hospital with flu symptoms, you will be put into isolation to either protect yourself against infection or to prevent others from being exposed to your highly contagious illness.

If you have cancer, HIV AIDS, a bone marrow transplant, or a weakened immune system, you must be protected from infection. Your body has an inability to fend off infection; this condition is called immunocompromised. Visitors to immunocompromised patients may be asked to wear a mask and possibly a gown. This is considered reverse isolation.

If you have a highly contagious respiratory illness such as tuberculosis (TB) or chicken pox, your illness may be spread through the air.  To decrease the spread of these illnesses, you may be placed in a negative pressure room, which allows the air to enter the room, but not to exit the room.  Anyonestaff and visitors alikeentering your room will have to put on a special fitted mask.

Hopefully, you don’t have to deal with the flu or a hospital stay this winter, but if you do there’s a ton more you can learn about what it’s like to be in the hospital or what you might expect when you’re there in Sara and Karen’s book.

Be an Informed Patient this flu season