By Donna Cardillo, RN
When someone you care about is in the hospital, it can be stressful, confusing, even overwhelming for you as well as the patient. But by becoming proactive in the process and learning to advocate for that person, you – and they – can feel more calm, confident and in control.
Here are 7 ways to do just that.
1. Ask the Registered Nurse in charge of your loved one’s care questions such as:
- What is their allowed physical activity (e.g. can they get out of bed, use the bathroom, walk in the hall)?
- Do they have dietary restrictions (e.g. can they have water, food brought in from outside, is anything off limits such as salt, sugar or caffeine)?
This will help and empower you to facilitate the health-care process. Understand that this information can change from day to day, so ask daily if there have been any changes.
2. Ask how you can get involved in your loved one’s care. Examples would be helping with grooming and eating. The nursing staff wants you to be involved and this benefits everyone. Be sure to ask the above questions first.
3. Since some people are intimidated by physicians (and the entire health-care process) and may be afraid to ask certain questions or mention certain things to him or her, talk to the nurse first if that is easier. That nurse may be able to address many of your questions and concerns and/or can convey some of the information to the physician or other care provider if that makes you more comfortable.
4. Keep a small spiral notebook and pen with you to write down questions when they come up so you’ll be prepared when the nurse, physician or other health-care provider comes in the room. Be sure to write down answers when received, too, so you won’t forget. Stress can cause us to become forgetful.
5. If you don’t understand something that is being said – a word, a diagnosis, an acronym (e.g. “DVT”) and so on, ask to have it repeated or explained. You could say something like, “I’m not sure what that means. Can you explain it to me?” You can also ask to have it spelled or have them write it down for you.
6. Ask for the business card of any specialist who comes into the room including case managers, social workers, physician’s assistants, physicians, dieticians, nurse practitioners etc. Then make a note on the back of the card as to the date they visited and any special information or advice. This way, you will be able to convey to the nurse and other members of the team who saw you and when. You’ll also be able to contact the appropriate person if you have further questions during or after the hospitalization. Staff nurses may not use business cards but nurse managers and supervisors do.
7. If a problem or concern comes up that cannot be resolved to your satisfaction by the RN in charge of your care or by your physician – whether it has to do with comfort, care, operational issues or anything else, ask to speak to the nurse manager or supervisor. You can also contact the facility’s Patient Advocacy Department. A patient advocate acts as a liaison between the patient and the facility. This individual/department serves as a neutral party and is there to insure that patients and family members are happy with their care and get the attention and service they need. They also work to resolve concerns that may come up. Both compliments and complaints can be made to the patient advocate. Call the hospital operator to be connected.
By being an active participant in the care of your hospitalized loved one, rather than a passive observer, you can have a positive impact and feel helpful rather than helpless.