Help for Family Caregivers: When a Loved One Leaves the Hospital
As our previous blog post points out, the hospital discharge process is a key transition time. Without proper support and resources as well as good understanding of follow up instructions, many individuals will return to the hospital for reasons that could have been avoided. No one wants this, and it can be especially dangerous for elders and persons with chronic conditions.
If you are a family caregiver and an elderly loved one is hospitalized what can you do to ensure a safe transition after the hospital stay?
• Consider the discharge process as beginning at the start of the hospital stay. Find out who is responsible for discharge planning and introduce yourself, explaining that you will be involved and giving relevant information about the patient’s living situation, supports and concerns. Discharge may not seem like a top concern at the beginning of a hospital stay, but with shorter hospital stay lengths, good groundwork starts as soon as possible.
• Keep good records. An online personal medical record system is an ideal way to manage your loved one’s health history, medications, and store key contacts so this information can be readily available. You can also use a notebook or file to store the information, as long as you have it available and provide good information to new providers. Make sure you communicate information that is vital to your loved one's health, such as medications that really should not be changed or typical complications or concerns that arise during hospitalization or procedures.
• Get to know the medical staff and check in about what is going on throughout the stay. Ask questions (and keep records as per above) about procedures, tests, expected outcomes, medications.
• Understand that you or a designated patient advocate will need to take charge in being the centralized hub of information. This includes ensuring you understand instructions, what will happen after discharge, and the functional status of the person (and therefore what support might be needed). Ask questions and anticipate concerns that might arise and do not hesitate to voice them.
• Consider using a professional patient advocate for consulting or assessment during this process. Aging Wisely’s Care Managers know the discharge process, use a systematic approach and can help families anticipate needs and find resources to help. If you are caregiving from a distance, this support is vital as it is very difficult to manage the discharge process from afar.
• Plan for the immediate transition time. The first day or two after discharge can be particularly problematic. Think about practical issues such as getting new medications, food and personal items while needing to attend to a person in a weakened state. Will you be able to help the patient from bed to bathroom? Services such as Medicare home health care and medical equipment rarely arrive immediately and are not meant to fulfill “custodial” needs, so you may need additional home caregiver support.
• Find out about the options for services and rehabilitation after the hospital stay. There are essentially three rehabilitation options: inpatient (i.e. at a skilled nursing facility/rehabilitation center), home health care (for someone who is considered homebound) and outpatient rehabilitation (going to a clinic or center to receive therapy). We will cover these in more depth in a future post, including the insurance ins and outs & we invite you to contact us if you have immediate questions.
• Ask for thorough discharge instructions in laymen’s terms and explain that you would like to be there when they are reviewed with the patient. Make a list of questions and help ensure you and your loved one are clear on instructions and who to contact if there is a problem later.
Contact us if you have immediate questions. Our Florida geriatric care managers serve as your professional patient advocate, providing caregiver support and consultation, as well as geriatric assessments and resources.