Introduction: Guide to Safe & Sane Patient Advocacy for Loved Ones
When a family member, especially an older one, goes into the hospital, things can happen fast and it can be hard to keep track of important information, both for their health and for the financial bottom line. Taking an organized approach to patient advocacy is good for everyone involved, including you. We've spent a lot more time than we like, over the years, helping family young and old, through hospital visits, and think we've got some pretty good protocols now.
Being an organized advocate:
- Helps keep the patient calm(er) and more reassured, which has a direct impact on health and healing
- Helps everyone make more informed decisions
- Provides an important extra set of eyes and ears
- Helps track hospital processes to compare against hospital records for both financial and health reasons
Patient advocacy will be a little different for everyone, but we think these basic steps can be applied prettyconsistently across the board.
Step 1: Sit, Stay
We make it a rule to leave no loved one behind! Obviously the need for 24 hr supervision will vary by the age of the patient, and the condition - whether someone is bound to be confused if left alone, or is facing major surgery, as opposed to being a young, alert individual in the hospital for something relatively minor. And, too, the need for round the clock advocacy will necessarily vary with the patient's preferences. Some people won't want someone around all the time.
But for the most part, we've found that it's a good idea to have someone in the room with a patient at all times, if only to cross reference with one another the results of doctor conversations and health tests. An advocate may think to ask questions that may not occur to the patient, and can keep track of procedures between hospital shift changes . (In our experience, even in the best hospitals, there's often some miscommunication during shift changes, sometimes important ones that we've caught.) It's also really reassuring to a child or elderly person to have a familiar person in the room at night, when things can be especially strange and scary in the hospital.
So pack an overnight bag, set up a shift schedule with each other, and come prepared to hang out in the hospital room as long as necessary. Most hospitals these days have pull out beds or recliners you can (try to ) sleep in. There's wifi, sometimes charging stations, inexpensive (sometimes pretty good) food, and you can usually bring in your own food, too.
Bring toiletries, a change of clothes, books, a notepad and your entertainment/work of choice.
Step 2: Keep It Clean
You're in a hospital, where despite modern sanitation efforts, everything is still potentially pathogenic. So stay clean! Wash your hands constantly, use those hand sanitizing stations whenever you pass them, especially getting in and out of elevators, and certainly before you handle or consume food, and before touching your beloved patient. You want to stay healthy, and you certainly don't want to add to the patient's problems.
Step 3: Stay Hydrated and Nourished
In addition to eating the healthy meals provided in the hospital cafeteria, bring some of your own snacks and energy boosters. Drink plenty of water, and supplement throughout with healthy snacks.
Step 4: Keep a Log!
This is hands down the most useful practice we've ever adopted with respect to hospital stays. In the "old days" before laptops and mobile devices, we just kept notes on a pad of paper. Today, we use Google Keep, which allows different family members to easily add notes to a single living document.
The basics, whether you use paper or digital note taking, include:
Date - Action - Name of Physician/Nurse/Aid - Observations/Comments
Depending on the issue, you can be as detailed or general as desired. This is a great tool for:
- Cross referencing what different doctors say or do throughout the course of a hospital stay
- Making patient observations that doctors and nurses might miss
- Keeping other friends and family informed
- Comparing against final hospital bill to identify erroneous charges for medicines or actions not provided
Logs are also very helpful with respect to continuing care or follow up hospital stays.
Step 5: More Resources
Some good resources for safe and sane hospital visits include:
- Guidelines for a Hospital Stay - National Transitions of Care Coalition
- Consumer Reports Hospital Survival Guide
- Hospitalization Happens - National Institute on Aging
- Building Your Care Notebook- downloadable templates
No one ever wants to go to the hospital, but if you all stay organized, connected, informed, supportive and proactive, you'll have a lot more control, for yourself and your loved one, over experiences and outcomes.