It’s stressful when your older adult is in the hospital. But it can be even more stressful when doctors say they’re ready to go home. Vive Health shares information about the hospital discharge process that caregivers must know in order to help seniors successfully continue their recovery at home

After a stay at the hospital, it’s a relief when seniors are ready to be discharged. But without the right information, transitioning back home can also be stressful and complicated.

This post-discharge guide covers 4 essential facts that caregivers must know about hospital discharge and explains 4 key steps to making sure you and your older adult are prepared for a successful transition back home to continue their recovery.

4 essential facts about hospital discharge

hospital discharge

1. If you need to speak with the doctor, you’ll need to ask
Discharge orders are authorized by a doctor, but the discharge process will most likely be overseen by a nurse, social worker, or other hospital employee.

If you have questions for the doctor, insist on speaking with them before your older adult leaves the hospital – either in person or over the phone.

2. Triple check medicine schedules!
Compare the original list of medications, doses, and frequencies with the new list that may include new or updated prescriptions. Ask questions and clarify anything that isn’t crystal clear.

For example, you might ask: Is it ok to take certain medications together? What side effects should we expect? What are signs that there’s a problem or the medication isn’t working correctly? Is food or a certain amount of water needed? Can these pills be crushed?

3. Let the discharge staff, doctor, or nurse know if something isn’t realistic
You know your older adult best. The hospital staff doesn’t know about their living situation or day-to-day lifestyle.

If the discharge team makes recommendations that simply aren’t possible, let them know and ask about alternatives.

4. Make your own limitations clear
If your job, physical condition, childcare needs, etc. prevents you from managing the level of care required by the discharge orders, let the staff know immediately.

The hospital needs to make sure their patient will be properly transitioned and taken care of at home. If you or other family aren’t able to take on all the necessary responsibilities, the doctor may need to order home health care or consider a short-term stay at a skilled nursing facility.

Discharge step 1: Get ready to leave the hospital

Even a short hospital stay can be incredibly tiring for seniors, especially if they haven’t fully recovered from the health event that brought them there in the first place.

When your older adult is discharged from the hospital, it’s essential to be there to get vital information about care instructions, follow-up appointments, medication changes, and more.

The discharge process also gives family caregivers time to ask questions, voice concerns, and clarify important details.

In addition, many caregivers will actually get trained by nurses and other hospital professionals on essential tasks like wound care, safely administering oxygen, modifying food and drinks for a dysphagia diet, and more.

Being present at discharge is an absolute must for family caregivers. In fact, it’s so critical that 37 states have already signed the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act into law.

The C.A.R.E. Act requires hospitals to notify and inform family caregivers about discharge and post-care instructions.

With new information to absorb and extra care tasks, your To Do list might be three times longer than normal after a hospital discharge. Whenever possible, accept and organize help.

That could mean getting help picking up prescriptions, buying and preparing food, cleaning the house, running errands. etc. Or, it might be asking someone to stay with your older adult while you take much-needed breaks.

Discharge step 2: Coordinate medications

One of the most important discharge instructions will be in regards to medication.

Some medicines, like antibiotics to treat or prevent a post-surgery infection, may require dosing multiple times a day. Others, like oxygen or nebulizer treatments, may require special equipment and set-up instructions.

Getting confused by complicated medicine schedules or treatment regimens can lead to serious health problems that can cause hospital readmission.

In fact, a 2018 report found that an increased number of medicines at hospital discharge was strongly correlated with an unplanned readmission to the hospital within 30 days.

If your older adult’s hospital stay resulted in new prescriptions or a change to their existing medicine schedule, it’s vital that you understand the new medication schedule, promptly fill prescriptions, and make sure everyone involved in their care understands their new medication needs and timing.

Discharge step 3: Make follow-up appointments

After their hospital stay, your older adult will have follow-up appointments with their regular doctor and any new specialists.

Sometimes, the hospital will contact the doctor to schedule these and list the appointment information on the discharge instructions. Other times, this will be left for you to do.

In any case, make sure these important follow-up appointments are scheduled before discharge.

Another essential task is to make sure these doctors have all the details about your older adult’s hospital stay. You can’t rely on the hospital to do this, so it’s best to speak with the doctor’s office and send over all the information they’ll need before the appointment.

Discharge step 4: Get home aids to increase safety, comfort, and independence

Could your older adult benefit from some ease-of-use tools now that they’re recovering at home?

Simple items like toilet seat risers, grab bars, and shower chairs can make using the bathroom and bathing easier after a hospital stay.

Reaching tools and dressing aids can help seniors do more for themselves.

If more expensive items of home medical equipment, like Hoyer lifts or a bedside commode are needed, a doctor’s prescription may be required so that insurance will cover it.