5 Essential Questions to Ask During Hospital Discharge
Being discharged from the hospital can be a scary event, not just for the person who was hospitalized, but also for his or her family. Families often have a hard time gathering all the information for a loved one that is necessary to ensure a smooth transition out of the hospital.
Information can easily be missed and details confused in the fast-paced environment of many hospitals today: tests and lab work being run, doctors, nurses, therapists and social workers in and out of your loved one’s room throughout the day—how can you possibly keep track of everything being done or said to your loved one?
Here are five essential questions that you should ask before your loved one is discharged from the hospital.
What diagnosis/diagnoses was my loved one treated for?
Knowing the diagnosis will help you understand what is happening, how it is being treated and what signs and/or symptoms you will need to look for to detect future problems. You can also give this information to your loved one’s regular doctors after discharge to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
What kind of care is my loved one going to require after he/she is discharged?
This is an important question to ask as early in the hospital stay as possible. Find out from the staff if your loved one is needing more help with their activities of daily living by asking questions such as:
- Can my loved one go to the bathroom on his/her own?
- Is my loved one able to bathe and dress independently?
- Will we need certain medical supplies or equipment and how/where do we get these items?
- Does my loved one have any new dietary restrictions?
- How can I receive the proper training to provide the necessary care for my loved one, like changing dressings for a wound or using a feeding tube?
If you feel that you are unable to manage the tasks that the staff tells you are required to take care of your loved one, you may need to consider an alternate discharge plan.
If I cannot provide the care my loved one requires after discharge, what are our other options?
One of the most common mistakes that caregivers make is they don’t inform the hospital staff of their reservations about being able to provide the appropriate care. If your loved one lives alone, for example, you must be honest with the hospital staff about whether you think he/she is capable of going back home alone.
If you have any concerns, make them known. Lying in a hospital bed for days can make your loved one weaker than before, which could put him/her at a higher risk of falls or injury. Perhaps your loved one is needing IV medications at home; do you feel comfortable hooking up an IV to your loved one’s arm and running the medication through it? If you feel that you are not able to manage these types of tasks at home alone, talk with a social worker or case manager about other options such as a skilled nursing facility, rehabilitation hospital, long-term acute care hospital or home health care. A social worker or case manager will equip you with options for these levels of care and help you coordinate a safe discharge plan.
What medications will my loved one be taking?
At discharge, a member of the hospital staff will go over the discharge instructions with your loved one. The instructions should include a list of the medications your loved one will be taking after leaving the hospital.
As your loved one’s caregiver, it is very important that you are present at the time of this discussion to provide the hospital staff with a list of medications your loved one was taking before hospitalization and to record the new information that your loved one will need. Providing a list of previous medications will reduce the risk of the hospital staff prescribing your loved one with a medication that could negatively interact with something he or she is already taking.
Are there follow-up appointments or tests that have been or need to be scheduled?
During your discharge discussion with a hospital staff member, ask if any appointments have already been scheduled or if you will need to schedule them. Make sure that you have the contact information for any doctors who treated your loved one for the first time. Also, find out if the hospital staff will be sending discharge instructions over to the office of your loved one’s primary care physician to ensure continuity of care. You may also ask for extra copies of the discharge instructions to bring to follow-up appointments and to keep for your records.
By Chrissy Schuster, LMSW, CCM