Planning for a Hospitalization

Planning for a hospital stay can be stressful at any age but for seniors it also comes with fear and uncertainty. It doesn’t have to be that way. Being prepared, knowing what to expect and having someone to look out for your best interests before, during and after your hospital stay will make for a better experience.

The All-Inclusive List

One of the most important things to do when planning for a hospitalization is to centralize the information critical to your stay. Here is a list of some “must-have” items:

  • Your driver’s license or another form of photo ID.
  • A list of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you are taking. Be sure to note the dosage and frequency.
  • A list of your allergies and health conditions, if any.
  • The names and telephone numbers of the doctors you are seeing and for what you are being treated.
  • Insurance and/or Medicare cards. Not all hospitals accept Medicare and not all services are covered so you should check ahead of time to be sure.
  • Any advance health directives you have, including durable power of attorney, health care proxy, a living will, and a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) form. If you don’t have these in place you can download the forms for your particular state and have them notarized at a bank or your lawyer’s office.
  • Copies of immunization records and results of recent tests or physicals. If you misplaced your records the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer links for tracking down your immunizations.
  • All paperwork related to your hospitalization.
  • The name and telephone number of your primary contact person.

Remember that you should never give away original documents. Make copies and keep them in a folder or envelope.

Do Your Homework

Thanks to modern technology you can do your homework before checking in. Whether you are a novice or a computer techie, researching online has never been easier. There also are Internet communities that allow you to chat with others who have had the same operation and you can check out your hospital’s website for additional information.

Know Your Rights

As a patient you have rights. Knowing what they are can be helpful.

  • You have the right to have any treatment that has been ordered for you explained as many times as it takes for you to understand it.
  • You also can request to have things explained in your native language.
  • You have the right to refuse any treatment or test.
  • If you are unsure about why something was prescribed or a medication switched you can decline until you have more information.

Protect Yourself and Your Family

Individuals who take an active role in their care while in the hospital have a better experience than those who don’t. Here are some measures you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones:

  • Be sure the hospital has your correct name. If your name is incorrectly entered into the computer system, problems can arise. You could be given the wrong medication or type of blood.
  • Avoid medication errors. Question the medications you are being given, particularly the name and dosage and what it’s for.
  • Watch and see that doctors, nurses and all other staff that come in direct contact with you are washing their hands so they don’t pass germs from other patients on to you.
  • Stand your ground if you think something is wrong.

You also should keep a record of all medications prescribed before, during and after you leave the hospital, including when each one was ordered, when dosages were changed and if any were stopped. Ask your doctor about possible side effects and drug interactions.

Designate an Advocate

If you aren’t able to serve as your own health care advocate, consider asking a family member or friend to take charge. Enlisting the support of someone you trust is crucial to your peace of mind.

Your health advocate will:

  • Serve as a dependable line of communication between you, your family and the hospital staff
  • Provide companionship, comfort and quality care
  • Assist you in making decisions and guarantee that those decisions are relayed accurately to hospital staff
  • See that treatment options are thoroughly explained
  • Help with discharge planning, including getting prescriptions and groceries, making meals and overseeing home safety.

The Comforts of Home

It is always a good idea to bring a little bit of home with you to make you feel more comfortable. That is why hospitals encourage patients to bring their own:

  • Pajamas and robe (short sleeves are better)
  • Slippers or slipper socks
  • Toiletries, including a comb and brush
  • Toothbrush and paste
  • Body lotions

It also is recommended that you pack some puzzles and games, reading materials or an e-book reader, an iPod or MP3 player, a laptop computer or tablet, playing cards and/or knitting or crocheting to keep you entertained during your stay. Don’t forget to check with the hospital about what items are permitted.

Be Ready for the Unexpected

No matter how well you prepare, you always can count on the unexpected happening. A stay in the hospital is no exception. That is why you should designate a family member or members, such as your children, to take care of your financial matters while you are away should the need arise. Your designee should know the location, account numbers and passwords (if any) to all your bank accounts.

Frequently, financial institutions want something in writing signed by the account holder authorizing access to another individual in case of an emergency. A notarized power of attorney form will suffice. It also is crucial that your appointee knows where you keep your important papers and documents. In cases of an extended hospital stay that person may need to pay bills and oversee the care and maintenance of your home.

Prepare for Your Return Home

Planning for your return home is equally as important as planning for your hospital stay. Chances are it will take some time before you are back to your old self. Arrange for a family member or friend to drive you home and stay with you for the first few days. If you don’t have anyone close by, ask your doctor about going to a rehabilitation center. He or she can recommend some nearby facilities and may even be able to expedite the admissions process.

You may need special equipment to help with your recovery, such as a:

  • Wheelchair
  • Walker
  • Raised toilet seat or portable commode
  • Bars and railings for the bathroom

The individual who handles your discharge is responsible for ordering those items as well as coordinating any outpatient therapy or additional services you may require. Consider hiring a home health aide. In addition to providing in-home care, these individuals also can serve as your advocate throughout your hospital stay.

There’s No Place Like Home

Once you are back home it’s time to organize a “recovery room.” Your telephone and address book, the remote control, a radio, Kleenex, a decanter and glass, wastebasket, something to read and your medications should be close by. Make sure that electrical cords are secured and any small rugs are removed to prevent tripping.

Written by home care expert Mary S. Yamin-Garone.