Monday, August 09, 2010


What you need to know before leaving the hospital

Good news: You are ready to go home from the hospital. The doctor talks to you about how you are doing, the medications you will be taking and who to make follow-up appointments with.

Next the nurse comes in. She gives more instructions, including a list of medications. You get dressed and go home, probably tired and still not feeling 100 percent, and you think “What now?”

Now you have to remember all of the information you were provided before you left the hospital. What was my diagnosis? How often do I take the new medication? Do I take it with food, or before I eat?

Discharge instructions are vitally important when you leave the hospital. They are the moment of transition, when your healthcare provider places your health back into your hands.

The goal is to make sure that you have all of the information needed to make a successful transition.

This may seem like an easy task. Can’t it all just be written down? Writing it down does help. But, the information has to be written so it makes sense to you, is legible and not too long.

Another thing that helps is to use the buddy system. A friend or family member who also hears the information can help fill in details later.

At Backus Hospital, we have been working as a team to improve our discharge instructions. Research shows that patients who take medications as prescribed, have follow-up appointments, and know how to manage their illnesses are less likely to return to the hospital.

That’s why patients should play an active role in their healthcare. Here are some things to make sure you have before leaving the hospital:

• Legible discharge instructions.

• A list of medications, and how often to take them.

• A list of symptoms that mean you should return to the hospital or call a healthcare provider.

• Contact information for follow-up visits and questions.

It’s hard to design a process that works well for everyone. I like bullet points, others like detailed paragraphs, some people do better with pictures. The most important thing is to make sure to understand the instructions, and if not, know who to call with questions.

Bonnie Thompson, an advanced practice nurse, is Administrative Director of Organizational Excellence at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Thompson or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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