So, you’ve just spent the last 6 days in the hospital due to a flare up of your COPD. Now the doctor has told you it’s time to go home. What now? You feel better, but certainly not ready to run a marathon. The idea of going home is overwhelming. However, take heart! This process of discharge is not a random shot in the dark as to your readiness, nor does it mean you’re now on your own. In actuality, the discharge process is critically important to ensuring you remain healthy after you’re home. In fact, it is so important that in most hospitals the discharge process actually begins behind the scenes as soon as you’re admitted.
Here are a few helpful hints for a smooth transition from hospital to home that we share with our patients.
Take Advantage of Help
First, remember that there are people in the hospital whose sole purpose is to make this as easy a transition as possible. In many facilities, it is their job to arrange home care, make follow up doctor’s appointments, make plans for medication deliveries, coordinate home oxygen if needed, and in general do most of the legwork for you. So, take advantage of that provision.
Have a written list of questions and concerns that you can ask the care manager or discharge nurse. It’s always best to have a family member or good friend with you when the discharge instructions are being given; these instructions play an important role in the discharge process. But often so much information is provided at one time that it’s nearly impossible to remember everything. If fact, you may need to ask the person giving you instructions to repeat it several times. It’s also a good idea to “teach it back” to the person giving you the information. We remember something better if we repeat it.
Get the Info!
It is your right to have all discharge information, both spoken and written, provided in your first language. If this service is not provided to you and you feel you would understand more in your native language, it’s within your rights to ask for it.
Check the Medication
There is the possibility that your medications have been changed or adjusted during your hospital stay, so this will be discussed with you. Make sure you understand the purpose of each new medication and how often you’ll be taking it. Studies have shown that medication errors are common after a person is home from the hospital because they didn’t understand the new regimen. Your provider should give you a written list of all medications you will now be taking. Through partnerships with local pharmacies, some of your medications may be delivered to the hospital even before you’re discharged.
Grab the Phone!
Some of the discussion should revolve around what you can expect for the first few days home. You should be given a phone number to call with any questions you may have. Feel free to use it. In addition, you will most likely receive calls from the hospital in the days following your discharge to make sure everything is going well. Ask questions when they call; it’s a wonderful resource to take advantage of.
Connect with the Community
There may be community services available in your area such as meals, transportation, or support groups. Sadly, while some of these services are provided free of charge, many are not. However, if something is determined to be “medically necessary” by your doctor, you may be eligible to receive equipment or care. It usually requires a letter be submitted by your physician stating the reasons it’s necessary.
Once you’re home do everything in your power to stay as healthy as possible. Quit smoking if you haven’t already, stay away from sick people, wash your hands frequently, take your medications faithfully, eat healthy balanced meals, drink plenty of fluids, and try your best to manage stress – it’s a killer to the immune system. Call your doctor immediately if you notice shortness of breath, increased mucous production, fever, swelling in your extremities or tightness in your chest that isn’t relieved by medication.
Some of these steps may be so obvious or simple we underrate their importance, others so difficult we avoid facing them. But following this advice empowers you to take control of your health and avoid relapse or readmission!