What you can do to have a safe transition home from the hospital
The thought of having to go to the hospital can fill your heart with dread. After all, hospitals are where sick and injured people go. You are most likely doing everything you can to avoid ending up in the hospital.
But life happens. Accidents, illnesses and surgeries may make a hospital stay necessary for you or a loved one. There are over 39 million hospital stays per year in the US alone, and each year one out of 10 people end up staying at the hospital.1
A clear idea of what you can do to help with transitioning home from the hospital will get you back on your feet quicker. As a Registered Nurse, I work regularly with clients preparing for a hospital stay and help with planning their discharge home. These insider tips will help make your hospital stay as low stress as possible and help you settle back in at home.
1. Make a Plan
If you know beforehand that you are going to be in the hospital, take advantage of that and make a good plan. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
Talk to your doctor about:
- What to expect from the procedure you will be undergoing.
- What medications you will need to take beforehand and after.
- What tests will be ordered both before and after.
- When your follow up appointments will be.
Figure out what support you have available to help you with:
- Transport to the hospital and then from the hospital back home.
- Care for pets, children or others who depend on you.
- Meal preparation and household chores.
It is an excellent idea to utilize a home care agency, which can provide you with non medical care, for your first 3-5 days at home. Caregivers are trained specifically in post-hospitalization care and can relieve the burden on your family. The Case Manager who does your home assessment can also suggest what special equipment you may need in your home. For example, home adjustments may include raised toilet seats, shower seats and bedside commodes.
2. Find an Advocate
Before you go into the hospital, ask a trusted loved one to act as your representative. No matter how tough you are, surgery or illness can knock you flat on your back! Your advocate will be able to monitor your care, look after your needs, ask questions of medical professionals and take notes in case you don’t remember what is discussed.2
Ask your advocate to be with you during check-in and discharge, as well as visiting you daily. The most important times of day for your advocate to be there are during morning rounds with the physician, shift changes and any conferences involving your care team.3
Your advocate can also ask to stay overnight with you for the first few nights. An extra set of hands and eyes available to get you a glass of water, a warm blanket or provide comfort is priceless.
Your advocate is also an important first contact for concerned family members and friends. Let them know that your advocate will be providing daily updates, coordinating visitors and acting in your best interest. Give your advocate permission to kick out visitors when you are looking tired!
3. Bring a Few Comfort Items
You are not going to like being in the hospital but a few familiar items from home can cheer you up.4 Brighten your room and help yourself sleep by bringing:
- A small music player and headphones.
- A warm, cozy blanket.
- A favorite photo.
- A sleep mask and ear plugs (hospitals are noisy at night!).
- Your cellphone or a list of important phone numbers.
- Basic (unscented) toiletries like soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, hairbrush, razor, lip balm and moisturizer.
- A comfortable robe, pajamas, underwear and slippers.
- Something to do, like a book, crossword puzzle or tablet loaded with audiobooks.
Having a few items from home can help you relax and recover quicker.
4. Get as Much Rest as Possible
Rest is the most important part of the healing and recovery process. If you have spent any time in a hospital, then you know that rest can be hard to come by in a busy unit. But it’s not impossible! Try these tips to improve the amount of sleep you get and speed up your healing time.
Make sure that you will be covered for pain management and comfort. Ask your admitting doctor before the procedure to leave standing orders on your chart for pain medication, solutions for constipation and a sleep aid. If you don’t need them, you won’t use them. But if you are struggling with pain at 10 at night, your nurse can quickly bring you relief instead of waiting for hours as a call is put in to your doctor.
Uncontrolled pain can increase the length of your hospital stay but too much pain medication can slow recovery and increase your chance of falls. Aim for “just enough” pain relief. Ask for your breakthrough pain meds at the beginning of the night, before a nap or before a potentially uncomfortable transfer or procedure.
5. Talk to Your Hospital’s Discharge Planner
At discharge, the good news is you are now on your way home. The bad news is you still have a ways to go on your road to recovery. The discharge planner is responsible for ensuring you have adequate support at home. This can include the professional home care agency that you contacted before you were admitted.
Your discharge plan should include:
- A list of your medications.
- All your care instructions.
- A list of supplies you will need to safely recover at home.
- Any special diet instructions.
- Your follow up appointments.
The care manager from the home care agency should be able to meet with you and your family to make safety recommendations. The goal of the discharge plan is to make sure that you have a smooth transition from hospital to home.
6. Plan for the Transition Home from Hospital
Now you are home! Time to relax and recover. However, coming home can actually be one of the most stressful times in your hospital stay. The leading cause of hospital readmissions or a slow recovery is not having proper support at home. The first 72 hours back at home are vital to a safe and successful recovery process. As you are recovering you and your caregivers need to remember to focus on five main things.
- Good nutrition
- Therapy (this includes your medical appointments)
Your first 3 days at home are all about just making sure your daily life functions are met. No big plans! No parties or noisy visitors. No goals other than to eat, sleep, take your medications and safely get to the bathroom. After a week at home, you will start to feel more settled in and ready for more. This is when you can set goals for yourself to aid in your complete physical recovery.