A hospital stay—especially an unexpected one—his already hard on the person in the bed, but it’s hard on everyone else too. If the patient is someone you love, you’ll want to go the extra mile to make everything easier on them and on friends and family. Here’s how.
Appoint Someone You Trust to Take Care of Outside Responsibilities
A hospital stay for a loved one, whether planned or an emergency, requires you to finish several tasks and put off others. Delegate those responsibilities to someone you trust.
For example, if you rush to the hospital, you may not have time to pack a bag. Similarly, if you have to stay in the hospital for days or weeks, someone needs to make sure the bills are paid. It’s difficult to keep a track of all that needs to be done, so use Real Simple’s checklist of essential elements of a hospital stay.
Everyday responsibilities like watering the plants or handling the bills don’t go away because you’re in the hospital. Delegate them effectively by skipping the how-to, and concentrate instead on the task and result, writes Ian’s Messy Desk:
Define the task and identify the outcome, not the process. The process that works for you may not work for others. Maybe you’ve been doing a job one way, because that’s how you were taught 20 years ago. When delegating, describe the successful outcome and let the person to find their best way to completion. Who knows, you might learn something from them.
Apart from things at home, this person should also act as the runner and facilitator. They are in charge of bringing things to the hospital, doing the legwork for paperwork, and anything else that requires outside support. Not only does this keep someone free to be with your loved one at all times, it also avoids duplication of efforts. Plus, when some essential document is needed, everyone knows who to turn to.
Collect and Fill Out the Right Paperwork
Speaking of documents, you need to get your paperwork in order. The University of Rochester Medical Center has a page dedicated to important documents with downloadable PDFs. Two of the crucial ones are:
A completed health care proxy is a legal document that allows you to name a trusted family or friend as your agent to make medical decisions in the event that you are unable to do so.
A living will is a legal document that allows you to control your wishes regarding your health care in the event that you are unable to do so. When paired with a completed New York Health Care Proxy form you retain control over who makes important decisions on your behalf and what decisions they will make.
Both those forms will also be available at most hospitals. Additionally, prepare this list of otheressential paperwork for the hospital.
You should also have a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) release form filled out and ready. HIPAA was designed to protect citizens from having their private information fall into the wrong hands, but it has a down side in times of need, says Caring.com:
That law requires doctors and other healthcare providers to get written authorization from a patient before they can share most health information about him or her with a “third party” — and that includes most caregivers, even those who are close relatives. The frustration comes in when a well-meaning caregiver needs particular information to make a good judgment about what medical care to lobby for or insist upon, but he or she doesn’t have the written consent required by HIPAA.
The hospital probably has a form that you can fill out and get your loved one to sign. You candownload this HIPAA release form made by the New York State Department of Health. If you can’t get the signature because he or she is unconscious or not in a state to sign, don’t panic. The US Department of Health and Human Services states that the health care provider can share information with you in such cases.
Make Your Loved One as Comfortable as Possible1
Do whatever you can to make the person in the hospital comfortable for the duration of their stay. Speak with the doctors and nurses about what comforts are allowed and what is prohibited.
Most hospitals don’t allow mobile phones for patients, especially in the Intensive Care Units (ICUs), but tablets with no data connection are usually okay. Fill it with movies, music or games, or even load apps like Personal Zen to reduce anxiety. Blogger Therapink, who is often in and out of hospitals, also says you should load up photos of everyone they love:
Whether in a picture frame or stored on your smartphone, photos of loved ones and favorite memories can help lift your spirits. It can get pretty lonely rather quickly in the hospital, and revisiting moments that bring your joy can get you through tougher moments.
In case your family member only gets sponge baths in the hospital, there won’t be running water for hair, which can get matted and oily. DIY dry shampoo gets rid of greasiness and itchiness. Again, ask doctors or nurses if it’s okay to use this before you apply it.
Check with the hospital about what other things you can get from home to provide comfort. A pillow or a blanket, stuffed animals, their own toiletries, even some books and magazines—these small things can go a long way towards lifting spirits. You can also check with your doctor if you can get home-cooked meals, but get a diet plan before you do that.
Most importantly, just be present, listen to whatever they want, and try to get that done. There’s nothing like seeing your support to make someone feel better.
Use Technology to Record or Note What Your Doctors Say
A hospital stay can be overwhelming. Doctors often come in and out and give you crucial information, and you might talk to multiple doctors at once or over a day. Don’t rely on your memory, instead, take good notes or record your conversations with them.
Politely ask your doctor if you can record what they are saying. Even if they have already told you everything once, most of them will be happy to repeat it while you shoot a video or record audio. Not every doctor will allow you to do that, but take the time to explain that it’s not a matter of trust, it’s a matter of your memory. Video is especially useful when it comes to physical therapists or anyone who has to demonstrate some medical technique. Upload your videos toDropbox or Google Drive so they can be stored privately, but shared or retrieved if needed.
In case your doctor is uncomfortable being filmed, ask to record their voice. Audio Memos is agood voice recording app for iOS, while Android users can turn to previously featured Cogi or some of the other options in our App Directory. If your doctor is adamant about not being recorded at all, just take notes.
Write notes in an app on your smartphone, and sync them with the web. This gives you a backup and you can easily share them with anyone who needs them. There are plenty of good note-taking apps; I’d pick Simplenote for its simple, plain-text approach.
Keep a Running Log of Medications, Meals, Checkups, and More
If you have support of family or friends, it’s a good idea to stay at the hospital in shifts. It gives each person a break and you’re at your best to attend to your loved one’s needs. But important information can get lost in communication, like what the previous doctor exactly said or when the last dose of a medicine was given.
Write everything that happens in notepad, accounting for the time and the event. Give the journal to each person who’s there to keep your loved one company, and ask them to fill out new events as they happen.
It’s best to go low-tech here. The notepad can be kept by the bedside so anyone can refer to what has happened when they weren’t around. Even if you need to step out for a few minutes, you can let the nurse know that the notepad has all the records. For example, it could look something like this:
12:15 – Nurse checked vitals, gave Tylenol, Zithromax
12:20 – Requested for additional blanket
12:30 – Lunch (Boiled eggs, melon, lettuce and tomato salad, pudding)
While low-tech is the convenient option, assign one person to digitize the notes for future reference.
Keep Family and Friends Updated, but Keep Non-Essential Visitors to a Minimum
When someone is in the hospital, family and friends think they need to flock there to visit. But in many cases, they may be in the way, or present a risk of outside infection. Ask your loved one who they really want to meet, and check with your doctor about how many visitors would be okay without causing any harm—that should give you an idea of who can visit.
Ask worried friends and family to stay home for now unless they’re necessary or specifically wanted, and let them know you’ll update them if or when things change. Most people will understand and accommodate. It’s also on you to recognize that they’re actually updated. One reader suggested using a voicemail message or blog:
Updating your answering machine message daily with the condition of the emergency can help to relieve the tedious pressure of having to tell the same story over and over again to those concerned. Perhaps a blog could help here.
The medium is up to you. When my mom was in the hospital recently, we used a group chat inWhatsapp to broadcast important messages to family and friends. A mobile-based solution also has a few other benefits, like sharing photos when the patient is looking better—seeing your loved one smiling back is enough to keep you fighting for them, wherever you are.
Lifehacker’s own Dave Greenbaum recommends Caring Bridge, a service that lets you create a custom blog for someone, where you can post updates, photos and more. You can also invite people to the Caring Bridge page where they can leave messages too. Plus, there’s a built-in calendar to schedule things like visits, chores or anything else.
Estimate the Total Cost and Be Ready to Bargain
Hospital charges are notoriously high, so it’s best to prepare yourself in advance. There are ways to figure out the cost of a medical procedure before it happens. You can also find out costs at websites like ClearHealthCosts. But nothing beats just asking the hospital. Some hospitals will have a rate card of the exact fees, but if not, you should be able to get a ball park figure. When you do, make sure you don’t get blindsided by the “facility fee.” The Center for Public Integritywrites:
The root of these increases are controversial charges known as “facility fees,” and they are routinely tacked on to patients’ bills not just for services actually provided in hospitals, but also by outpatient care centers and doctors’ offices simply because they’ve been purchased by hospital-based health care systems.
Your insurance should hopefully cover a large part of the bill, but in case you aren’t insured or if the charges are contested by your insurer, you can still reduce your bill by just asking. The New York Times writes:
People without insurance end up with bills that are much higher than those for covered patients, because the uninsured are charged the hospital’s gross rates.
If the final bill is beyond your means, it will pay to bargain — particularly if you do not have insurance.
“Never be afraid to ask questions about your bill. The majority of hospitals will discount private paying patients’ bills,” said Michelle Leone, senior vice president for revenue cycle operations at Continuum Health Partners in New York City. “Most hospitals are generous in their discounts.”
A hospital is a business and you can treat it accordingly. If you are not in a position to pay right away, then ask for payment plans—the hospital would rather get your money over time than not get money at all. Just remember to start negotiating immediately, as unpaid bills can affect your credit score.
But while you are settling the bill and figuring out your money, don’t forget that it was all for the health of someone you love. As the final act of a hospital stay, sincerely thank everyone involved—doctors, nurses, other staff, family, friends and anyone else you can think of. A little thank you goes a long way.