Top Tips for a Safe Stay at the Hospital

Patient speaks with nurse

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Going to the hospital can be nerve-wracking, but knowing what to do before, during and after your hospital stay can give you peace of mind and help you stay safe while getting the best care.

These tips will better prepare you for a planned or unplanned stay in the hospital and may help you avoid returning to the hospital unnecessarily.

Prepare an information kit.

You should prepare a kit - even if you don’t plan to go to the hospital anytime soon.

The kit can be similar to the suitcase that pregnant women are encouraged to have ready when they are close to their delivery date. But instead of clothes and toiletries, you should fill it with important medical and personal information.

This kit should include a list of your medications and dosages, diseases and medical conditions, allergies to medications or food, and the name and contact information of your physicians and health care providers.

Choose your decision-maker.

You should identify a person you trust to make decisions on your behalf in case you are too sick to make them yourself. This person can be your spouse, an adult child or - in the case of a minor - a parent.

Any supporting or legal documents, such as a living will or power of attorney, should name your decision-maker and should be included in the kit too. Make several copies of the kit because once you are in the hospital, you will give it to your doctors and caregivers. Be sure to leave the original documents at home.

Bring an advocate or helper.

Make sure you have an advocate or helper that can be with you during your stay at the hospital. This can be the same person who will be your decision-maker. The advocate’s role is to be present when you are interacting with your medical care team so the advocate can ensure your needs as a patient are met.

Always ask questions.

One of the most important things you and your advocate need to do during your stay at the hospital is to ask questions. These questions should address what medicines you will have to take, which tests or procedures will be done and the reason for doing them, and which appointments you will have with doctors during your stay.

Keep moving for a speedy recovery.

One of the major complications of being in the hospital is becoming weak and losing strength because of lack of movement, especially for older adult patients.

Keep moving unless there is a medical reason you are unable to do so. If you are used to walking around, take a stroll in the hallways or get out of bed and sit on a chair. For every day you spend in bed, it may require four to five days of movement recovery after you leave the hospital, so continue moving to avoid needing that extra recovery time.

Watch out for infections.

Preventing infections is another way to stay safe while in the hospital, and hand-washing is key. Anyone who comes to visit you should wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer. Also, ask every day if catheters or IVs are still necessary and if they can be removed. They can become a risk for infection, since they are in places where bacteria can enter the body.

Get on board with your discharge plan.

You or your advocate should ask about your discharge plan when you are getting ready to be released from the hospital.

This plan will tell you which follow-up appointments you need, how soon you need to see your primary care doctor or specialist, and if you need any other tests done. It will also tell you who your point of contact is for arranging additional appointments and tests.

Be sure to ask for a discharge summary to give to your primary care provider. The summary will include instructions for what to do when you get home, what to do if you develop new symptoms, what symptoms to look for and who to call if any problems develop.

Following these simple steps can have a huge impact on the outcome of your hospital stay.

Alicia I. Arbaje, M.D., M.P.H., is the director of transitional care research in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.