So, mom needs to have surgery. She will be admitted to the local hospital near her home. The doctor tells her she will be in the hospital for two or three days. He says her surgery is routine and that there is nothing to be concerned about. Sounds like a plan. No worries, right? Ya, well ….
Since hospitals are complicated places, we’ve put together some hospital safety tips for seniors. Despite the best intentions, the finest equipment, and the most highly trained staff, mistakes happen. Sometimes they are insignificant – sometimes they have serious consequences.
Most fundamentally, be there with your loved one as much as you can. Meet caregivers and get to know them. Be involved in the care. Help when you can, like at mealtimes; caregivers will appreciate it. Ask questions, both for yourself and for your loved one. People who work in hospitals are smart, caring, and well-intentioned: they want the best for their patients. But they are also human, and humans make mistakes. Be your loved one's advocate. NEVER hesitate to question something.
3 reasons for bad experiences at the hospital:
There are many reasons hospital stays can go from uncomfortable to terrible. The most common:
- Lack of communication among the patient, the patient’s support team, the doctors (of which there may be several, each with their own specialty and limited focus) and the nursing staff.
- Picking up an infection.
- The failure of the patient or the patient’s support team to ask questions when a change in treatment arises. Maybe there’s a good reason for the change. Then again, maybe it’s a mistake.
The good news is there are things you can do to ensure your mom is safe, as the following list of hospital safety tips proves. Being prepared will give you a sense of confidence that will make all the difference. Now, you might read this list and think, “The staff will hate me! I’m going to seem like a pest,” but don’t worry about that. No doubt, should you find yourself in this situation, you’ll be more than happy to insist – in a respectful and appreciative way – on only the best care for your loved one. And, because you were prepared and vigilant, everyone will benefit.
14 Tips to make sure a trip to the hospital is mistake-free as possible:
- Someone should always be by a loved one's side. If they are going to be in the hospital for any length of time, round up as many other trustworthy people as you think you’ll need to share the responsibility of looking out for him or her. Having back-up means no one person will become fatigued, which is when mistakes can happen.
- Make a list of all the medications (prescription and over-the-counter) and nutritional supplements (including herbal) your loved one normally takes, as well as the amounts, strengths, and how frequently (you could even take the containers to the hospital, as well). Pointedly share all this information with the doctor(s) and nursing staff.
- Be sure doctors and staff know about any allergies, whether medical or nutritional.
- Make sure every piece of data the hospital has about your loved one is accurate and up-to-date. This is especially true for information about medication. Read the papers that need signing. Know what’s in them.
- If a loved one has an advance directive and a “Do not resuscitate” order for a physician, be sure they are available in the chart and posted prominently in the room.
- Make sure the information on the wristband is correct. Make sure there is a wristband!
- Look the room over carefully: is it clean? Preventing infection is essential, and this is a great first step.
- Make a point of learning – and making a list of – who will be tending to your loved one, and what their respective tasks will be. Don’t be afraid to ask them about their background and experience. Not only will this put your mind at ease, but you’ll be establishing a relationship with these invaluable folks that should go beneath the surface. There are so many other patients to attend to, and establishing a rapport with staff could improve the level of care and focus your loved one receives.
- Pay close attention to all who provide patient care. Do they wash their hands before drawing blood, etc.? Do they identify themselves by name and what they do? Do they tell you what the doctor ordered whatever it is they are about to do? Do they positively identify your loved one by asking name or birthday? Do they check the wristband? Do they explain what they are about to do? If they are bringing medicine, do they explain what it is and what it’s for? If being relocated to another place in the hospital, is there a formal handoff between the staff on the floor and the person transporting? Do they make sure they have the right person, and where your loved one is going? These things should be done every time, regardless of how well people appear to know you.
- If you participate in any way, say by assisting during mealtimes, be sure you wash your hands, as well.
- Be present for rounds, medications, shift changes, and major exchanges of information. Politely but firmly make clear you want to participate in these events, and when you do, take notes, ask questions.
- Know when medications are to be given, and what they are, what they are for, possible side-effects, and even what they look like, so you can speak up if something seems different; it might prove to be an authorized change in medication, but it might be a mistake. If anything looks wrong, ask questions. Also, if the meds are not delivered on time, check with the nurse; delaying medication may be harmful.
- Bed sores are a common problem for patients; be sure your charge doesn’t stay in the same position for too long.
- And, if allowed to get out of bed, check that your loved one is either wearing the no-slip socks the hospital supplied or some other equally safe footwear, as well as having access to any other assistance needed – a cane, a walker, a supportive hand.
If all goes well (and we surely hope it does), thanks to the combined efforts of you and the hospital staff, Mom or Dad is now ready to go home! Happy as you may be, pay strict attention, taking notes all the while, about what she needs to do to finish healing. Have a clear list of her dietary needs, recommended exercise and the forms it could take (will home health be visiting?), and prescribed medications (including which, if any, pre-hospitalization meds and supplements can be taken). Write down when and how many doses are to be given, for how long, and the desired effect and possible side-effects, as well as the date of any follow-up exams with established physicians. Receiving all these instructions from multiple staff right before a discharge can be overwhelming and you may not be able to remember it all. Write it down!
You might have noticed that the word “list” popped up a few times here. There’s no doubt about it: lists can be very empowering. It’s the perfect way to organize pertinent information which, in a case like this, can then be passed on to anyone there to watch over your loved one. Any deviation from the list will tell caregivers that questions should be asked. How comforting is that?
Do you have any tips we missed about making a hospital stay safe for seniors? Share them below!
If you liked this article, also see: Surviving a Parent’s Trip to the Hospital & Beyond: What to know before you go.