Anyone admitted to a hospital faces stress and anxiety, often in tandem with pain and trauma. Add into this mix a bombardment of information and instructions from a sea of strangers, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. How can patients and their loved ones keep track of everything they need to know?
The exchange of important information between health care team members and patients and their loved ones carries a heightened responsibility when it’s combined with urgency over a patient’s wellbeing. All parties involved must be attentive to giving and receiving timely, accurate information.
A report from a patient safety group found that communication breakdowns led to more than 1,700 patient deaths over five years. Granted, hospitals are busy places where staff must juggle heavy workloads and constant interruptions. But any confusion, omission or miscommunication can have life or death consequences.
As hospital staff members strive to acquire and provide needed information, patients and their support persons can support the sharing and clarifying exchanges with these seven practical tips:
1. Bring a list of home medications.
Know what medications you take on a regular basis. When you’re admitted, someone will ask you to provide a list of your medications and will put them in your chart. Your attending doctor will decide which to keep you on in the hospital. The hospital pharmacy will provide those you need to continue taking, and ensure that any new medications prescribed are safe and appropriate in combination with your other meds.
2. Make a list of health care team members.
An extensive team of health professionals, each with his or her own duties to perform, will come and go from your room. It isn’t always easy to sort out an attending physician from a consulting physician, or a nursing assistant from a certified nurse. If you’re ever unclear about who someone is or their role in your care, ask them. You or your support person will want to write down who is who, along with any instructions the person provides.
3. Know your code.
Your code status informs staff what to do if you stop breathing or your heart stops. Patients without any chronic health issues who aren’t nearing the end of their life may want the health professionals to do everything possible to revive them. Others with a terminal diagnosis or of advanced age may choose not to be revived. This is called “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR).
4. Assign a spokesperson.
Identify someone that the hospital staff can call when changes occur. It’s important that this person can be easily reached, that you trust this person with your health information, and that he or she can be relied on to communicate with others in your family or support system.
5. Write down questions as you think of them.
Except for nurses, most team members stop by your room once a day to check on you, review your care plan, and make any needed adjustments. It’s not always easy to remember all your questions during the doctor’s visit. Keep paper and pen handy and write down whatever questions come up between visits.
6. Advocate for yourself.
Let your nurse know of any changes in your condition so the information can be relayed to your health care team. Also, if for any reason you’re not happy with a member of your health care team, let your nurse know that you’d like to speak with a nurse manager.
7. Leave the equipment to the experts.
Hospitals are full of elaborate, high-tech equipment to perform important functions. From IV pumps, to heart-rate monitors, to breathing tubes and more, the equipment often serves a vital purpose. If any equipment begins to beep or if tubes become dislodged, always alert a nurse. Unfortunately, incidents have occurred of patients or family members inflicting irreparable harm when trying to fix things themselves.
Kati Kleber, BSN, RN, CCRN, is a nationally certified critical care nurse in the Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit at Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her new book, Admit One: What You Must Know When Going to the Hospital – But No One Actually Tells You (ANA 2016), provides an insider’s guide to the culture of a hospital and what to expect of health care providers.