How To Prepare To Come Home From The Hospital


After a hospitalization, many people can’t wait to go home. But going home from the hospital requires planning to make sure you have the support you’ll need for a smooth transition.

There are many reasons you might have been hospitalized. Maybe you had surgery or some sort of exploratory procedure. You might have been battling an infection, or maybe you were just there while they ran an assortment of tests to figure out what’s going on. 

After several long days, or even weeks, it’s now time to go home from the hospital. What do you need to do next? 

During your stay in the hospital, there were always people around to take care of you. Your nurses were just a button away. They would stop by a few times each day. A doctor would stop in to check on you. Your surgeon would look at your incision. Other therapists may have dropped by, too. And maybe you had visitors.

But now you’re returning home where you may need to take care of yourself. If you are lucky enough to have an attentive spouse, partner, or other loved one nearby, you may have the support you need. 

What will you do if you don’t have someone right there to help? If you live alone, your loved one works all day, or if you have children to take care of, it may not be so easy to manage on your own. 

Upon your arrival home, you might have a long list of concerns: 

  • Who will fill your prescriptions?
  • Who will bring food to your house or do the shopping if you can’t get around?
  • Who will drive your car?
  • Who will help you get to the bathroom, or get dressed, or fix meals, or do laundry? At first you may be wobbly and weak. Who will do those things until you get your strength back?
  • Who will keep track of the kids, get them off to school, put them to bed at night, and nag them about their homework?
  • Who will feed the cat, or dog, or parakeet? 
  • Who will let the dog out? (then back in, then back out, then back in… you know what I mean!)
  • Who will answer the door when the mailman or well-meaning neighbors stop by?
  • Will there be someone to take care of you if something goes wrong at home?

You may need help with aspects of your life you normally wouldn’t, from personal care (such as bathing or getting dressed) to household tasks (such as laundry or cleaning). You might need help to make sure your living space is comfortable and safe. There might need to be modifications like handrails or grab bars in the shower. And you might need help managing your medications, treating a wound (like the area where you had surgery), or getting to a doctor visit for follow-up care. 

You might need outside help. If so, you might also need help figuring out who will pay for these services. There are several resources that can help you address these concerns. 

Here are some tips for a smooth transition:

  1. First, make sure you get a clear and thorough discharge plan from the hospital before you leave. Leaving with written instructions can make it easier to stay on track and to figure out exactly what you need help with. 
  2. It might be time to call in a favor from a friend, family, or neighbor to help you with basic tasks once you’re home. 
  3. If you have a more extensive recovery ahead of you, you may need help from a home health aide or visiting nurse. Your health insurer may cover some of these services but check because this kind of help can be expensive.
  4. Local nonprofit agencies or other community-based supports may be available in your area. The hospital you’re leaving, your main doctor, or your health insurer (if you have one) may all offer referrals to these kinds of resources.
  5. You can also reach out to find an independent patient advocate who can help take care of all of these needs or at least orchestrate resources for you. You may encounter hospital-based patient advocates during your hospital stay. They can be great resources. But if you need help outside the hospital, they may no longer be able to support you. Their jobs are usually focused on helping the patients in the hospital, not once patients go home. 

It’s never too late to ask a patient advocate for help. But it helps to plan ahead if you can. Arrange help if you know you’re heading into the hospital and that you don’t have a great support system at home. If you are interested in finding a patient advocate and learning more about what they can do to help, you can search and connect to one on our national directory of patient advocates.

Having a thorough discharge plan in place before you go to the hospital can give you much needed peace of mind. It can also lower the chances that you’ll wind up back in the hospital, which can happen if you don’t take your medications as prescribed or if you don’t have support to help you in recovery.  

Whatever your plans, knowing who you can call for help if you need it can make a challenging transition a little smoother. If you can plan ahead, you will be best prepared for the anticipated (and even maybe the unlikely) problems you will have upon return from the hospital. 

Graphic: If you live alone, or your loved one works away from home all day, then find a patient advocate to help you make a successful transition home.

Call a patient advocate, and if you can, call BEFORE you are hospitalized. Learn what they can do to help you during your return-to-home transition time.

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