Hospital Help

Managing the hospitalization of your loved one can present challenges. Here are some tips to help you get the best care.

If you care for a loved one with cancer, you probably spend far more time in hospitals, clinics and various other healthcare settings than you ever thought possible. You’ve likely become an expert in medical terminology, insurance billing and medical record keeping, and you’re much more familiar with cafeteria menus and gift shop offerings than you’d like to be.

Though all of the new roles that come along with caregiving can be intimidating, your ability to be an effective advocate for your loved one, and to play an important role as a respected member of their healthcare team, is very important.

When a cancer patient is hospitalized, it may be for a procedure, to manage an acute problem—such as an infection—or because the cancer is progressing. Your role as a caregiver and advocate for yourself and your loved one is especially important at this time. As a member of the healthcare team, which, depending on the situation may also include the attending physician, the hospital nurses and a hospital social worker or case manager, you will want to do what you can to make sure that your loved one gets the care they need and the healthcare team has the information they need to provide that care.

Here are some things you can do to help. Immediately upon arrival at the hospital:

Help Provide Information

You can be proactive, feel more confident in your dealings with hospital personnel and make your loved one’s transition into the hospital setting much more smooth by providing the patient’s medical history in writing, including:

  • A list of the patient’s allergies
  • A list of current medications and dosages
  • A list of past treatments
  • A list of all physicians and consultants who are caring for your loved one, along with phone numbers
  • A clear and fairly detailed written description of your loved one’s current physical and mental capabilities
  • A copy of the patient’s advance directive if there is one

Identify the hospital social worker or case manager.

This person can help you with a range of services, including financial questions, support and discharge planning issues. Discharge planning should start as soon as you enter the hospital because it takes time to arrange home healthcare, special equipment and who will be paying for these additional expenses.

Identify the “attending” physician.

The attending physician is the primary doctor taking care of your loved one and the person who will coordinate care in the hospital. The attending physician will be in communication with the other consulting physicians and can often summarize the entire treatment plan. Find out the best way to get in touch with the attending physician. What number can you call to reach the physician, and what times are best to call? Make sure the “face” sheet in your loved one’s hospital chart contains the correct name and phone numbers. Do not hesitate to continue to ask questions until you feel comfortable with the answers.

Get to know the nurses who are caring for your loved one.

Love your nurses. They are a wealth of information, can answer your day-to-day questions and are an excellent source of support.

Discharge Planning

It’s very important to start thinking about discharge planning when your loved one first enters the hospital. It is important that the discharge planner (and the nurses involved) fully understand your loved one’s physical and mental capabilities, so the most appropriate help for you and your loved one can be ordered as part of the discharge plan.

Legal Issues

Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, also know as a healthcare agent or proxy, is the individual appointed to make decisions about medical care if your loved one cannot. That person may well be you. A healthcare agent can be assigned as part of the advance directive form.

Advance Medical Directives inform physicians and family members what kind of medical treatment and care your loved one wishes to receive in the event of his/her inability to make those decisions. A Living Will is an example of an advance medical directive. A Living Will comes into effect during an end-of-life situation. It records the specific kind of treatment and care your loved one wants at that time.