Once you leave the hospital after having an operation or treatment, the last thing you want to do is come back because of a problem or complication. Readmission to the hospital is a huge disappointment for patients and their healthcare providers.
Sometimes being readmitted to the hospital can’t be avoided, but there are some things that you can do to minimize the chances that it will happen to you. Here are seven key steps to prevent unplanned readmissions.
1. Understand your treatment plan
When you are being discharged, your providers will give you instructions about how to take care of your specific condition. This should include a description of the problem that brought you into the hospital and the treatment you had, and what you need to do once you leave the hospital to continue the healing process. If you had surgery, those instructions should include what sort of activity and weight-bearing restrictions you should follow and for how long. You will need to know when you can take off any bandages and when you can resume showering and bathing. Instructions should also list specific things to watch out for – fevers, wound redness, drainage, and anything else related to your operation, and what to do if and when they occur.
2. Know what medicines you need to take
Just as it’s important that your healthcare team have a full list of the medications you’re taking before an operation, your team needs to give you a complete list of medicines for you to take after leaving the hospital. That may mean stopping some of the medicines you were taking before entering the hospital or taking new medications. Be sure you get a list of the medicines that you should be taking, how much of each you should be taking, and how often.
3. Get new prescriptions filled, and take your medications as directed
If your medical team prescribes new medications, be sure that you fill them and follow the instructions for taking them. Sometimes prescriptions can be filled by the hospital pharmacy so that you have them in hand when you go home. In other cases, your team may give you written prescriptions to take to your pharmacy or will send those prescriptions to the pharmacy electronically. It’s helpful to fill all of your prescriptions at the same pharmacy so that your pharmacists know all the medicines you’re taking, can answer your questions and help you avoid medication interactions.
4. Make sure your family knows the plan
Many patients leave the hospital needing some help at home. It’s important that your family and any other caretakers are fully informed of all the plans for your care after you leave the hospital. It’s common for patients to be a bit confused about their care plan – it can be complicated and patients may be distracted by their health condition. Having your family or caregiver with you to hear the discharge plan from your healthcare team and to ask questions can be a big help.
5. Know who to call with questions
Even the best discharge plans can’t cover every possible question. Be sure that you and your caregivers know the number to call with any issues that come up. You will want to have the number for your surgeon’s office, the number of your primary care doctor, and the number to call with urgent questions after hours. Remember that whoever answers an after-hours call probably won’t know you or your condition as well as your regular doctors, so try to call during regular hours unless it is an emergency. If you do call when your doctor’s office is closed, it’s a good idea to call again the next day to let them know about your questions, because messages between the covering doctor and your regular doctor can get lost.
6. Make sure there’s a good plan for prompt follow-up with all the right healthcare providers
When you leave the hospital, you should expect to have a follow up appointment with one or more doctors within a few weeks to be sure that things are going well. Be sure that you know the follow-up plan by asking your surgical team, your nurses, and the hospital social worker to be sure that your appointments have been set up before you leave the hospital. If for some reason appointments can’t be made while you’re still in the hospital, make sure you and your caregivers know the number to call to set them up after you are discharged.
Follow-up appointments are a chance to identify problems before they become so serious that they require readmission to the hospital, but if you have problems before your appointment, call your doctor’s office right away and ask to be seen sooner.
7. Make sure your PCP is kept in the loop
Your primary care provider (PCP) will be in charge of managing your health after your hospitalization, so it’s incredibly important that he or she knows what happened while you were in the hospital and any changes to your medications that occurred during that time. Your surgical team should send a copy of their note summarizing your hospital care — called a discharge summary — to your PCP. But you can help by making sure they know who your PCP is and where to send the discharge summary. It’s also a great idea to make an appointment to see your PCP within one week of getting out of the hospital, so he or she can evaluate you and be aware of any changes in your health status.
Following all of these steps won’t prevent every hospital readmission. But by making sure that you and your caregivers communicate well and agree on a plan, you can increase the chance that when you leave the hospital, you’re leaving for good.
This story originally appeared in the Health Dialog Care Compass Blog.