Hospital 101: Tips for the Patient’s Caregiver

Here are some helpful hints for navigating through a hospital system, tailored toward the patient’s loved one/caregiver/advocate.

Avoid an emergency admission to a teaching hospital on the Fourth of July or any other date when the most recent medical students start their rotation.  No sense offering up the patient as an early learning tool.

Prepare a “go bag” with important health records, a list of medications, a list of emergency contacts, copy of medical insurance cards, toothbrush, toiletries, slippers, clothes for discharge, and charger cord.  Drop in a book or two for your reading pleasure.  It can be boring in a hospital room.

Accept help from friends.

Decide in advance who will have the final say on medical decisions if the patient cannot make his or her wishes known.  One person is best; co-agents and committees are a recipe for disaster.  Have the patient, in advance, sign a medical power of attorney designating the agent.  A HIPAA release and Directive to Physician are also helpful documents to have, in advance.

(Note that the “in advance” wording is deliberate.  The patient’s rights are paramount, and his or her choices rule, even if they run counter to your preferred choices.  However, it may be impossible for the patient to communicate choices once hospitalized.  This is one area when advance planning is crucial. )

Download an app so you can order food to be delivered to you in the hospital.  Do be sensitive about your the food choices.  This is probably not the time for curry, raw onions, or strong cheeses.

Find out when the hospitalist and other doctors make rounds, and be in the patient’s room at that time.  Take notes of what they tell you.  Then do research so you can make an informed decision if asked.

Be friendly to the nurses and staff.

It is your job to interact well with all of the players.  Threatening, screaming, getting hysterical and generally being a pain will get you zero cooperation, which could adversely impact the patient.

Recognize that different rules apply to each specialized care unit and that not every hospital has the same rules.  Most, however, have rules on visiting times, number of visitors, noise levels, and electronic devices.  Respect them.

Assume that the patient can hear and understand you at all times, even if comatose or heavily medicated.  Do not have end-of-life or other tough discussions in front of the patient if the patient cannot participate.

Begin discharge planning immediately after the patient is admitted.  A rushed discharge can be a very bad discharge.  Private insurance, Medicare and Medicaid all have rules for covering rehabilitation and home health care.  This is a complex topic that can have huge financial ramifications.  Start educating yourself immediately on the patient’s options.   The hospital has obligations before it can discharge a patient.  Read the paperwork that the hospital is required to give you.  It has a lot of helpful information.

Being there for the patient is important.  Doing it well is essential.

Virginia Hammerle will present 7 Must Have Estate Planning Documents And Maybe a Trust on 

October 18, from 6-7 p.m. at the La Fontaine Memory Care, 11777 Lebonon Road, Frisco.  Seating is limited, rsvp to