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Commentary: Hospital discharge list can help caregivers stay organized

Carol Bradley Bursack

Dear Carol: My dad has been in the hospital for open-heart surgery. He's now being discharged and will come home with me until he recovers enough to go back to his home, where he lives alone. Long-term, his heart problem should be taken care of, and other than that he's healthy for his age. What I'm worried about is the discharge process and taking care of him after he comes home. People aren't kept in the hospital very long now so families often have more caregiving to provide than in the past. What questions do I ask when Dad's discharged? How do I make certain that I don't forget to ask something important? — HF

Dear HF: It's scary to bring home someone from surgery, particularly when it's something as serious and potentially life-threatening as heart surgery, so your proactive thinking is on track.

Help is available. Medicare.gov has a helpful checklist at https://www.medicare.gov/pubs/pdf/11376-discharge-planning-checklist.pdf. You can print out the list and take it with you. This checklist is designed not only for hospital releases but for nursing homes or any care setting.

You're obviously involved in this as your dad's caregiver and advocate, but it's a good reminder that we all need someone with us when we are to be released from the hospital. There's always a lot of information to take in during discharge, and someone who's been ill or had surgery is rarely alert enough to remember everything necessary. Ideally, even the advocate will take thorough notes and ask for clarification if he or she has questions after talking with the discharge staff.

According to the checklist, your doctor and the team should be working with you toward discharge right from the beginning. In fact, the list begins with questions about what medications you are taking and where you will receive care after you leave this medical setting. It also covers whether or not any special equipment is needed and, if so, how you can obtain that equipment and put it in place.

The staff will likely go over how to bathe, how to dress wounds (or where to go to have this done), what changes in medications might be needed if any, how to navigate upcoming surroundings, and whether or not you'll require in-home care aides to come to your home to help with certain tasks.

If the person being discharged or the caregiver for that person needs training in some areas, that training should be offered. However, if you are unsure of any skills that you feel you will need, be sure to ask. That's what this process is for. Hospitals don't want readmissions, so it's in their interest to cover discharge well.

Even though the hospital will likely go through everything that you need to know at discharge time, I'd highly recommend printing out this Medicare list. If that is a problem, ask the hospital ahead of time to provide you with a list. Being over-prepared in these situations doesn't hurt a thing.