If you’ve recently been released from the hospital, there’s a risk you may not be aware of—being readmitted to the hospital within the month after your release. That risk is greater for older people and people who were hospitalized due to heart failure, heart attack, and pneumonia. There are many different reasons why people are readmitted to the hospital, including:
- Not filling prescriptions or understanding what medicines you should take (or stop taking) and when to take them
- Not understanding or receiving discharge instructions about what you can and cannot do, symptoms that could indicate a problem and when to call the doctor, what you should eat or avoid eating, or how to care for incisions
- Not scheduling or going to needed follow-up appointments
- Failure of communication and sharing of test results and other medical information between the doctors who treated you in the hospital and your primary care doctor or the specialist who will manage your care after your hospitalization
- Falls or injuries at home
What you can do to avoid being readmitted
Being an informed, proactive patient and having a family member, friend, or health advisor who can help you gather the information you need is the first step toward lowering your risk of being readmitted to the hospital. Here are the other key strategies that can help you recover and stay out of the hospital:
- Ask questions and make sure you understand the answers: Before you’re discharged from the hospital, make a list of questions you’d like to ask your doctor about your condition, the treatment you received, what follow-up care and testing you need, what symptoms could indicate a problem and who to call at any time of day or night, what medications you’ve been prescribed, and what changes you should make to your diet and activity as you recover. If you don’t understand the medical terminology the doctor uses, tell him or her so and ask for an explanation in plain English. It’s also helpful to rephrase and repeat back what the doctor tells you to make sure you’ve understood.
- Get it in writing: Make sure you receive written discharge instructions. The instructions should include a schedule of follow-up appointments, the name and contact information for any physicians you are being referred to for follow-up care, a list of your medical conditions, a list of medications, including when to take them, for how long, and any possible side effects, and a list of equipment you need during your recovery, for example a walker or cane.
- Make sure the doctor has list of all medications and supplements you take. One of the most common reasons people are readmitted to the hospital is because they failed to take a prescribed medication, took the wrong dose, or experienced a drug interaction. To avoid interactions, let your doctor know about all prescription and non-prescription medications you take, as well as supplements.
- Update your primary care doctor: You or a family member should contact your primary care doctor and let him or her know that you’ve been in the hospital and why. Primary care doctors don’t always receive this information from hospitals, which puts you at risk for missing important tests or receiving duplicate medications.
- Remove hazards in your home: To reduce your risk of falls and accidents, have a friend or family member do a home safety check and remove tripping hazards like throw rugs, extension cords, and clutter. Make sure there’s adequate lighting, especially at night, and consider either installing safety items such as grab bars in the tub or shower or having a family member, friend, or home health aide help with activities like bathing, dressing, grocery shopping, pharmacy pick up, and cooking until you’re back on your feet.