Tips For Managing a Hospital Stay
You can make your loved one’s hospital stay more effective and less stressful by following a few best practices.
The tips below are offered by the Joint Commission Guide to Patient and Family Engagement in Hospital Quality and Safety to guide you in helping hospital workers care for your loved one:
Tip 1: Give us information about your health
- Doctors and nurses may know more about medicine, but you and your family or friends know more about you and your body. That is why working together as partners is so important.
- Do not assume that your doctors and nurses know everything about you. We want you to tell us what you see, think, and feel. If something is important to you, we want to know about it.
- When you are in the hospital, doctors and nurses will talk with you about:
- Your health before this hospital stay
- Medicines, vitamins, and herbal supplements you take
- Allergies to medicines or foods
- How you feel during and after treatment
- Any pain you may feel
- Any changes in your health while you are in the hospital
- Your plans after you leave the hospital
Tip 2: Make sure you understand what your doctors and nurses tell you
To help make sense of all the information you get while you are in the hospital:
- Repeat what doctors and nurses say in your own words. After your doctor or nurse tells you something, try saying, “Let’s make sure I have this right” and then repeat the main points back in your own words. This helps your doctors and nurses know right away if they did not explain something well. Then they can explain it again more clearly, if necessary.
- Take notes. It can be hard to remember all of the information you get in the hospital. It is helpful to write down what the doctors and nurses tell you. Family or friends can help you do this.
- Visit the hospital’s family resource room, patient education center, or library. These areas in the hospital have materials that are easy to read. You can also always ask your doctors and nurses how to find more information.
Tip 3: Ask questions until you understand the answers
You and your family or friends will probably have questions about your care in the hospital. Asking questions is not always easy. Use these suggestions to help:
- Be prepared. Keep a notebook in your room and write down questions as you think of them. Your family and friends can help with this.
- Speak up if something is unclear or confusing. Let doctors and nurses know right away if there is something you do not understand. You can say, “I’m not sure I understand what you just said. Can you tell me again?”
- Keep asking until you understand. If you got an answer but still do not understand, please ask again. You can say, “I still don’t understand. Can you try explaining it to me in a different way?”
- Ask questions about your medicines. Ask what each new medicine is for, how often you need to take it, and what amount, or dose, you should take. If you are worried about taking any medicine for any reason, tell your doctor or nurse before you take it.
The Merck Manual offers:
- A description of what typically happens in a hospital stay
- Particular risks for older adults during hospital stays
Tips from Care is There
- Get to know your case manager and work closely with her/him to plan the hospital stay and discharge
- Know the roles of your health care team members
- The Merck Manual publishes a list of typical hospital workers and their functions.
- Your hospital website may have resources to explain the health care team in that hospital
- Ask your case manager for assistance in getting to know your particular team
- If you are unclear about medications, you can ask to have a pharmacist review your medications with you and your family.
- Nurses and doctors in hospitals work on shifts, and a variety of different professionals will be working with you throughout your admission. Sometimes information falls through the cracks when staff change shifts. Don’t always assume that the new person on your care team knows all of your information. If they seem like they don’t know or don’t remember something specific about your situation, speak up to make sure they know.
- Ask about plans for your day each morning. This will help confirm your understanding of your schedule while in the hospital, and you won’t be caught off guard when someone comes to take you to a test or procedure.
- Keep track of assistive devices
- Be watchful for dentures and hearing aids being dropped into bedding or wrapped in tissues and left on serving trays
- Ensure that walkers and canes don’t get mixed up with hospital-owned supplies
- Understand insurance coverage and out of pocket costs:
- Find out how long the stay is expected to be and whether your loved one is formally admitted as an inpatient, or whether they will be considered to be on outpatient or observation status. Urge the doctor for a formal inpatient (not “outpatient” or “outpatient”) admission. Admission status can drastically affect insurance coverage while in the hospital and after discharge to a skilled nursing facility, and the doctor may not be aware of this. See our article “Hospital Observation Status.”
- Confirm insurance coverage and determine deductibles, copays and out of pocket costs.
- Hospitals often have professionals that can help with other health-related issues, and patients can sometimes request their assistance. If appropriate, ask your nurse if resources are available for things like:
- Quitting smoking
- Pain management
- Spiritual issues
- Palliative care and hospice
- Psychological issues
- Management of chronic illness (for example, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, etc.)
- Have copies of HIPAA (privacy) release documents; general and health care power of attorney; and advance medical directives such as living wills, do not resuscitate orders, Physician’s Order for Scope of Treatment
Begin Planning the Discharge
See our separate article about Managing the Discharge from the Hospital. This planning should begin almost immediately after admission.
- University of Virginia Health System: Your Room
- Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital: What to Expect
How Care is There can Help:
At Care is There, we are not health care providers and therefore do not offer healthcare or health care advice. But we can help your loved one’s hospital stay be more effective and less stressful by following these best practices:
- Being present with your loved one and advocating for them during their hospital stay
- Providing the hospital staff with an up to date medical history, medication list, list of allergies, description of symptoms, etc.
- Ensuring hospital staff are aware of and address pain, health changes while in the hospital, etc.
- Ensuring the information provided by hospital staff is understood by your loved one, written down, and communicated to you
- Ensuring you and your loved one have answers to your questions
- Helping to keep track of assistive devices
- Understand insurance coverage and out of pocket costs
- Watching for the risk factors for hospital care for older people as identified by the Merck Manual Consumer Version.
- Learning about hospital resources for managing health-related issues
- Understanding changes in medications and following up with the workers at the next level of care to understand how the changes are being effectively implemented
- Ensuring that health care workers know about your loved one’s assignment of agent under health care and general power of attorney and their advance medical directives
- Working with the hospital discharge planner to organize an orderly and effective discharge to the next level of care
Resources for Managing a Hospital Stay:
- US Department of Health and Human Services - Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
- Merck Manual for the Consumer
Will your loved one undergo a hospital stay in the near future?
Contact Care is There today for a free consultation!
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- How to Be an Effective Advocate
- How to Advocate at Medical Appointments
- HIPAA: Access to Health Care Information
- Prepare for a Medical Emergency
- Maintain Medical Information
- How to Advocate for Your Elderly Loved One During a Medical Emergency
- Advance Directives and Health Care Power of Attorney
- DNR (do not resuscitate) Orders
- POLST: Advance Care Planning for the Seriously Ill
- University of Virginia Health System
- Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital
- How to Manage Your Loved One’s Discharge to a Rehabilitation Center