A loved one's hospitalization can evoke fear and uncertainty on the part of the caregiver. With a little planning, though, you can make the experience more manageable for the both of you before, during and after the stay.
See also: Questions to Ask the Doctor.
Before a hospitalization
Whether your loved one has a scheduled surgery or winds up in the emergency room unexpectedly, he will need to have certain information handy so the medical team can provide effective care. Help him create an "in case of emergency" card that he can keep in his wallet with the following information:
- Date of birth.
- Doctors' names and numbers.
- Any allergies (medication, therapeutic dyes, foods, etc.).
- Current medications and dosage information for each.
- Current or past medical problems.
- Previous surgeries.
- Health insurance information.
- Contact information for primary caregiver(s) as well as a relative, friend or neighbor who lives nearby and can help with home or pet care, if applicable.
If your loved one has named a health care agent (also known as a health care proxy or power of attorney) to make medical decisions should he become incapable of making such decisions, include that person's name and contact information on the card. If he hasn't named a health care agent, encourage him to do so. He may also want to complete a living will. In the meantime, include the name and contact information for one or two other emergency contacts. At least one contact should live near your parent and have HIPAA clearance.
Make sure to keep a copy of this information in your own purse or wallet, as well.
During a hospitalization
Once your loved one has been admitted to the hospital, find out the name of the attending physician — the person who will coordinate his care — and ask what's the best way to reach him. Also make sure that your loved one's chart includes your phone number.
Don't hesitate to ask doctors and nurses questions about your loved one's condition and treatment options. Make sure that you understand and are comfortable with the treatment plan.
Keep in mind that as long as your loved one is capable of making decisions — and understanding the consequence of those decisions — he has the right to decide courses of treatment and even refuse treatment, even if you, his physician and other family members disagree with his choice. If your loved one is incapable of making decisions and you must act as his health care agent, use his living will as a guide to ensure that his wishes are followed. Your role as his health care agent is to voice his wishes, not your own.
Keep family and friends informed about your loved one's condition. To save time, post updates to a website such as Lotsa Helping Hands, CaringBridge or CarePages. If you find yourself overwhelmed with phone calls, designate someone else to receive them and provide updates. Or, change your voice mail message to include a short message with an update on your loved one's health.
Hospital discharge planning
As soon as possible after admission to the hospital, speak with the nurse, social worker or other professional responsible for helping you with discharge planning. Don't wait until the day your loved one leaves the hospital. You, your loved one and the discharge planner should work together to decide if he should go to his own home, a relative's or friend's home, a rehabilitation facility or a nursing home — as well as who will provide the necessary care.
Before the discharge, write down the name and phone number of the discharge planner and any physicians involved in your loved one's care. Also write down any instructions regarding medications, home health equipment, diet, exercise and follow-up appointments. Ask what symptoms or side effects should be expected and when you should call a physician.
Also inquire about services that can help you provide care in your loved one's home or your own. Find out early on if your loved one's insurance will cover the cost of an in-home nurse, home hospice care or other service recommended by hospital staff.
If at any time you feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable with the discharge plan, speak candidly with the discharge planner. Medicare's Planning for Your Discharge checklist can help you and your relative ensure that you have all the information you need before leaving the hospital.
Make a list of everything that needs to get done in the days and weeks ahead, and enlist friends', relatives' and community members' help.
Don't forget to take care of yourself, too. You'll need plenty of rest and time to de-stress in order to remain a caregiver.
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