5. Help with discharge planning and get a copy of your discharge summary. Patients are often sent home from the hospital still sick with new and complicated treatments. This time of transition is when many medical mistakes happen. Make sure you understand exactly what you still need to continue to help your loved one get better. Talk to the doctor(s), your nurse and even a pharmacist if you are taking new medication. Ask if you should resume the old medication you were taking before coming into the hospital.
Don't hesitate to ask questions and have your answers recorded (with permission) or written down. Your attending doctor will dictate a complete report summarizing the reason for your hospital stay, any treatment and test results. Ask your doctor for a copy of this discharge summary and provide a self-addressed stamped envelope as a reminder of your request. Ask your surgeon for a copy of the operative summary for your files as well.
Ask for copies of important tests or findings such as EKG blood work or X-rays. They may be important to your doctor in case of a problem after you go home, especially if you were not seen or treated by your family doctor while in the hospital. My friend insisted on a copy of her sister's EKG and heart catheterization report after leaving a hospital because she was admitted to the hospital on an emergency basis while on vacation. She developed chest pain while en route, and the information helped her doctors know how to treat her. This information may have saved her life.
Have you cared for someone recently in the hospital? What advice do you have to give others? As always, I welcome your questions and comments.
Dr. Marie Savard is an ABC News medical contributor. To learn more about Savard's health management system, download free forms and a sample letter to your doctor, visit http://www.drsavard.com and click on "Learn how to take charge of YOUR health."