You may recognize this common scene that occurs in room after room on any floor in any hospital. A patient has had tests or is waiting to have tests. A doctor has been in to review the findings and has a plan. Or the patient is waiting to see the doctor. In either case, once the doctor leaves, the patient and their loved ones don’t always have a clear sense of what the next step or plan is. I have seen families write notes on the back side of a discarded breakfast menu so that they can be sure that they ask a follow-up question of the doctor the next time he or she visits. Then of course, the family waits until the next visit which may be 24 hours later.
I have been on both sides of this scene. I have been there as a clinician coaching the family to help them understand and interpret what they have heard and then as a daughter anxiously waiting to hear the results of the test and waiting all day with the hope of getting a 2 minute conversation with the doctor.
I recently read an observation that people ask more questions when buying a cell phone than they ask their doctors. Your health and your loved one’s health are more valuable then any cell phone! Use these tips to get the most information to make an impact on the quality of the care your loved one receives in the hospital.
1. Get a spiral bound notebook. Family members are often at a loss as to what to bring in as a gift for someone in the hospital. Use a spiral bound notebook to jot notes down listing details from the hospital staff providing information.
2. Ask more questions, get involved. When you ask questions you get answers that can help you make better decisions and get better quality care. Read that last part again: better quality care. People who are more involved in their health care management receive better quality care. Questions usually don’t appear to you until after the doctor has left the room. Write down all your questions. Remember, there is no dumb question, especially when it comes to your health. Write down the answers offered to you by the doctor to help you remember and sift the information as you think about it later.
3. Ask what all the options are for treatment. There are at least three treatment options for most conditions: a conservative approach, the usual treatment, and more aggressive treatments. Not all treatments may be available to you in the current hospital setting. It’s good to ask anyway. Newer or more aggressive treatment options may not be available in the hospital you are in. Find out where you may go to receive more aggressive treatment if needed.
4. Ask what would happen if you don’t follow the recommended treatment. There are many people who don’t agree with the treatment approach that the doctor has recommended but never tell him/her. Treatment may be started in the hospital, but most often, treatment needs to continue after you leave the hospital. Are you going to realistically follow through with the treatment plan? If you don’t think that is possible, or you know that your loved one will forget or won’t have ability to leave home to get treatment, discuss that with the doctor now so an alternative can be arranged. For example, if the patient is going to need to have therapy and the doctor wants the patient to go to an outpatient clinic but you need to return to work and the patient cannot drive, explain this. Home Health Care is a possible solution in this case. Most of the time, alternatives are available.
5. Ask what follow-up will be required. Follow-up doctor visits, lab work, additional tests, treatments often follow after a hospital stay. Unfortunately, 1 in 5 patients end up being re-hospitalized within thirty days of a hospital stay. Why? Lack of follow-up with a timely doctor office visit and medication confusion and/or mismanagement are the most frequent causes. Leaving the hospital is often a flurry of activity and a lot can get lost or missed in the confusion. Pay attention to discharge instructions provided both verbally and written prior to leaving the hospital. Keep the instructions in a safe, deliberate place, like the spiral bound notebook until you get home and settled. Then, pull out the instructions again and read them carefully. Most of the time, the medications have been listed, follow-up treatments or tests and instructions to call the doctor’s office have been listed. Now is the time to follow through with the instructions. Getting settled can be difficult and these details are often overlooked and result in deteriorating health and re-hospitalization if not promptly taken care of.