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Most of us have had an overnight stay in a hospital or have known others who have. The sights and sounds of a hospital can fill a stay with anxiety, fear and discomfort. A patient may be reluctant; the thought of being admitted to the hospital, even for an overnight observation, is not in the plans.
The entire process of being admitted and staying for a required length of time can be intimidating and stressful. The idea of needing medical treatment to this extreme can be upsetting, even in the best of situations.
In addition to doctors, nurses, aides and other healthcare professionals, care and support also must come from family members and friends. Caregiving efforts do not end just because a person is admitted to a hospital. In most cases, the caregiving effort must increase. A family member or friend, acting as a caregiver or advocate, not only must deal with the paperwork, procedures and personnel, but also must juggle the need to understand what is about to occur.
Some hospital stays are scheduled in advance, allowing patient and caregiver time to plan. If given this type of “luxury,” preparations ahead of time can make the stay easier. However, if the hospital stay is because of urgent medical treatment, caregiving efforts intensify. Plans and decisions have to be made in the spur of a moment.
A team of support will have to be put together to make sure a patient is not left alone, either in the emergency room, a treatment room or once admitted to the hospital. A caregiver, whether family member or friend, should not try to do this alone. The long days and nights quickly wear on a person.
In the best scenario, several family members or friends rotate shifts at the hospital so the patient is not left alone. It is most beneficial to a patient if a caregiver can be present during the doctor’s rounds to ask questions about a diagnosis and treatments. Make sure appropriate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act documents have been signed by the patient so medical information can be shared with family members or caregivers.
A caregiver also acts as a liaison between the hospital staff and the patient. The patient may need extra assistance with personal care, eating, toileting or easing anxieties and a caregiver will become an extra pair of hands to a sometimes thin-stretched staff.
As the patient prepares to be discharged, begin planning to return home or to a long-term care facility. Both the patient and the caregiver should be open and honest with the hospital staff and not sugarcoat the patient’s abilities and home situation.
Some other important things to consider when being discharged from the hospital:
n Think about the practicality of suggested treatments and consider their effect on the patient and family, not just desired medical results.
n Ask the hospital discharge planner or doctor about eligibility for home health services or equipment needed to return home.
n Ask for clear, written directions using layman’s terms, not medical jargon. The patient and the caregiver should understand any follow up treatments or care.
n As a caregiver, realize the hospital staff is providing care for many people. The caregiver is the advocate for their ill loved one and must convey their needs to the staff in a patient manner.
Medicare offers patients and caregivers a useful guide which can be used at the time of a hospital discharge. “Your Discharge Planning Checklist” can be found at www. medicare.gov/publications/pubs/pdf/11376.pdf
Hospital stays unfortunately can bring about many feelings of intimidation and frustration for the patient, families and caregivers. Following hospital procedures with patience, open communication and support, medical treatment in a hospital can be a means to receiving the best care possible in a hard enough situation.
Contact Senior Life columnist Monica Ruehling at firstname.lastname@example.org.