By Elizabeth Guttenberg, LMSW, Senior Care Advisor
Q: I recently had a horrible experience when my father was hospitalized for a broken hip. It was very challenging to gather any information about his care, and he was discharged too early in my opinion. Is there anything I should have done differently?
A: This question comes up often in my line of work so I’m glad you asked. Having worked in acute care settings, I can attest that our healthcare system is so fragmented that it is often difficult to know where to turn for reliable information. In fact, many of my clients initiate contact with me because they can’t figure out who is really in charge of their loved one’s care. Should you find yourself in this situation again, the following pointers may prove helpful.
Establish a primary contact for practical information. This is probably not the attending physician, who will see your father only briefly each day on morning rounds. Although it is important to consult him or her about medical issues, the most reliable source of information about your father’s daily progress and needs is likely the nurse (or social worker) assigned to his room. In a large facility, these staffers can seem harried and hard to find, so be persistent. Ask whoever is sitting at the nursing station in the hallway to pass on your request for a brief visit from your father’s nurse. Since the nurse will vary by shift it is a good idea to establish a relationship with the head nurse on your father’s floor as well. A little tip: be nice to everyone on staff, even if you’re frustrated. They want the same thing you do: to keep your loved one safe and comfortable. So be assertive about obtaining the information you need, but also be respectful and courteous.
Ask for detailed information about your father’s diagnosis and prognosis. Once you have established one or more reliable contacts within the care team, don’t hesitate to ask probing questions about your father’s condition. Facilities are required to maintain thorough documentation for each patient that passes through their doors. If your father has complex medical issues, then it is not out of line to request a written list of each problem (e.g., infection and broken leg) and the medications and therapies being used to treat it (e.g., antibiotics and physical therapy). You can also ask to speak directly with the physical therapist, occupational therapist, or other care professional assigned to your father. As these professionals maintain tight schedules, you may need to return at an appointed time.
Make sure you are prepared for the transition home. When your father is almost ready to leave the hospital or rehabilitation facility, ask your primary contact to schedule a discharge planning meeting to discuss medications, recommended aftercare, and activities he should be able to perform now and in the future. Invite others who will be involved in his care, and prepare a list of questions about safety concerns in his home. Is it OK for him to climb stairs on his own? Should you install a raised toilet seat? The facility’s care team should assist with setting up home visits from a nurse, therapists (e.g., physical or occupational) and home health aides if needed.
And remember, involve your dad in the decision-making process. His safety is important, but so are the things that will make his life comfortable and enjoyable.
Need more guidance around communicating with your loved one’s medical team? Contact a Care Advisor at Care.com. We are master’s-level social workers specializing in adult and senior care. Call us today at (855) 781-1303 or email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org