Even a short hospital stay can be very stressful for you and your family. “It’s not like you go home and pick up your life where you left off,” says Carol Levine, director of the Families and Health Care Project of the United Hospital Fund. “There will probably be new medications, and understanding them is critical. You may also need some help at home, whether that’s from family or friends or a home care agency.”
Preparing for your new reality (even if you think it will be temporary) before you leave the hospital can mean the difference between a smooth recovery and a readmittance, experts say.
One in about every seven or eight Medicare patients is readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of being discharged. Part of the reason could be because hospital discharges happen very quickly, Levine says. Whether you have surgery or are in the hospital for some other reason, hospital stays are much shorter than they used to be, so you may not be in optimal shape when it comes time to leave.
What can you do to make sure you’re really ready to leave the hospital—so you won’t wind up there again? Follow this expert advice.
Ask a trusted friend or family member to be part of the discharge process. You may be disoriented from lack of sleep or woozy from pain meds when the nurse or the case manager is going over your discharge paperwork with you. But a more clear-headed companion can listen and take notes for you. “The best thing is to have an extra set of ears,” said advanced practice nurse Brian Bixby, who works on transitional care issues as part of a team at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.
Get clear instructions on your new medications. Ask about possible side effects and any potential interactions with medications you may already be taking before you leave. Be sure you know which medications to take and how often.
Arrange for your prescriptions to be filled. This includes both prescriptions for medications and any durable medical equipment you might need, such as a walker. You may need to ask your friend or family member to take care of this for you.
Make arrangements for any special care or services you will need, such as a home health nurse or wound care. There may be a delay of a day or even a few days, so you may need to ask a trusted friend or relative to fill in the gaps. Another thing to consider: Will you need any other special supplies—even foods?
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Schedule a follow-up appointment with the physician who is following your case. You’ll need to see a doctor, whether it’s your primary care provider or a specialist, within a few days after discharge. Go ahead and put in the call so you can get on the schedule.
Know who to contact with questions. This is especially important if you’re going home as the weekend is beginning and your follow-up appointment isn’t scheduled until the next week. At any point in the entire process, don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something or you have concerns.
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