You may be shocked to hear that hospitals are not required to have even a single doctor available 24/7 — but anesthesiologist David Sherer, MD, says that is indeed the case. Dr. Sherer, who coauthored the book Dr. David Sherer’s Hospital Survival Guide, notes that physician availability is especially problematic at smaller, community hospitals, which have particularly tight budgets. Yet many people prefer such hospitals for a variety of reasons…

  • They often are less noisy and confusing than larger ones.
  • Visiting rules may be less restrictive.
  • Care may be less expensive and more highly personalized. These hospitals are more likely to be staffed by people from the local community, as opposed to commuting staff. (That may be a minus for some people — if everyone knows everyone, maintaining confidentiality may be more difficult.)
  • Dr. Sherer says that small hospitals may not be the best choice for people with heart problems or other serious conditions that require specialized care. If you or a loved one needs to be hospitalized, he suggests asking your physician beforehand what would happen if an emergency came up at the hospital. Is there a doctor available at all times? Is there always someone present who can run a “code blue” (when a patient is in cardiac arrest) and resuscitate with drugs or electric shock?

    If a complication develops during a stay at a small hospital, ask your physician whether it would be wiser to transfer to a different facility or stay put. In an emergency, of course, the hospital may transfer a patient on its own, so ask about that policy as well.