“I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and for others like me.” Maya Angelou
Speaking up for ourselves and our personal needs can be challenging for some, even in the best of times. When we must engage with the health care system, as all of us must inevitably do, that difficulty can increase exponentially. Whether we are seeking medical care for ourselves or for a loved one, we come to the situation with a mixed bag of feelings. We are aiming for hope, trust, and relief but those may be overrun by fear, worry, confusion, exhaustion, and skepticism. Our need is simple: we don’t feel well and we need help to feel better. While the medical options to relieve what ails us may not be as simple, we should be able to find compassionate care that helps us find a path to greater wellness.
Even a seasoned medical professional recognizes the complexity that comes along with the necessity of an inpatient or outpatient hospital stay. Hospitals are behemoths –so much so that even entering the building in the appropriate spot can seem an impossible task. Fortunately, hospital providers and administrators are aware of how intimidating a hospital can be, and many are working hard to make the patient experience more user-friendly. Our local care systems want to be more than a labyrinth one must enter at their own peril but instead a compassionate partner providing care to all who need it in the community. That sounds great, you may say, but how do they intend to do that?
Like most of life’s relationships, it’s a two-way street. Making a hospital stay easier is dependent on both parties working in tandem. Charlotte Ipsan, senior vice president and chief hospital officer of Norton Healthcare, explains the fundamentals of Norton’s All Together philosophy: “We need to get back to the basics; we are here to care for the community—to build trust and help everyone be comfortable walking through our doors. We must go the extra mile to provide exemplary care. Patients or their loved ones must speak up, advocate for themselves, and ask questions when they don’t understand. We have to work in partnership,” she says.
Charlotte offers the following list of active steps that patients or their loved ones can take when preparing for a hospital stay:
· Hand hygiene is the #1 preventer of infection. It’s the top factor in keeping each person safe. Everyone needs to wash their hands thoroughly. If you don’t see your care staff wash their hands, ask them if they did so.
· If you see something, say something. If you are concerned about anything you see, hear, or experience while in the hospital, ask for an explanation. For example, some patients express concern that their caregivers are talking on the phone while caring for them. In fact, many in-room staff wear hands-free devices so they can care for their patient while communicating information about that patient to a doctor, a specialist, or a lab technician.
· Actively participate in your care. Ask questions about everything you don’t understand. If you can’t speak for yourself, have a loved one do it.
· A care conference can be convened upon your request. This conversation with you, your family, and medical personnel will help clarify any confusion you may feel or help you confirm that everyone agrees with your wellness plan.
· Carry a list with your medications and dosage amounts. Don’t just assume that those records can be found electronically. Along with this list, it is wise to include the names and phone numbers of those with whom you are willing to share information about your medical condition. (Tip: Put this in your wallet today—you never know when you’ll need it.)
· Are you coming in for a scheduled surgery? You will not be allowed to drive yourself home. If you don’t have transportation, don’t be bashful about letting someone know. The hospital will arrange a ride for you.
· Before coming to the hospital or immediately upon arrival, confirm who can stay with you and what the policy is for visitors. You will also want to set a password to share with loved ones. Medical staff will only share information with those who have the code. Make sure the hospital knows the names of those individuals.
· Every hospital room has a specific phone number. Make sure you know it and have shared it with your loved ones. If at any time they can’t reach your room, they can call the nurse’s station to obtain information. Make sure they have the nurse’s station number as well.
· Most hospitals offer a valet service that is free of charge and typically found at the main entrance.
· If there is no valet service, don’t assume a wheelchair is available for use at every entrance. It’s a safety hazard to have them stored in doorways. The ER entrance will always have a wheelchair available to assist when a patient is entering the building. If you need help getting into the building, call the hospital operator. Have that number handy.
· If financial concerns leave you reluctant to get the care you need, know that hospitals provide care regardless of one’s ability to pay. Be up-front with hospital staff; they will work with you on a suitable financial plan.
· Upon discharge, read your after-visit summary thoroughly to make sure it’s correct and that you understand it. This is critical for post-hospital care. Don’t leave the hospital without being clear about those instructions.
· Learn about your medical options and select the ones that align with your personal values. Make sure your loved ones and caregivers are aware of your preferences.
Advocating for yourself (or your loved one) is a critical component to getting the personalized care you need. Do you want the lighting in the room adjusted? Would you like to listen to soothing music? Are you cold? Ask for what you need.
Charlotte teaches her staff to always go the extra mile when caring for patients. “I tell them I don’t want them to have a Little Debbie moment. When I was a nurse years ago, a young man with terminal cancer had asked for a Little Debbie cake. We had many different treats available; we just didn’t have Little Debbie’s. I always regretted that I didn’t go get that treat for him. I committed to never have another Little Debbie moment when it came to caring for my patients, and I want that to be the model of care we show every day,” Charlotte says.
By Megan S. Willman