Once You Arrive at the Hospital

What Can You Expect

It is helpful to know what to expect once you arrive at the hospital, whether you are going as a patient or as a visitor.

Whether you are a patient or a visitor, the information desk of any hospital is an excellent place to start! If you are a patient, the information desk can point you in the direction of the admitting department. If you are a visitor, the information desk can point in you the direction of your loved one's room.

Now that you know where to start, let's look at some other things you may expect once you arrive at the hospital!

The hospital admitting process:

If you are going to the hospital as a patient, and your hospital stay has been scheduled ahead of time (verses being admitted on an emergency basis), you will need to arrive at the hospital about 2 hours before your procedure, to allow the hospital's admitting department and nurses to complete their administrative and medical paperwork.

In general, the administrative paperwork will include confirming your address and contact information. If you are living in the United States, additional information regarding your insurance carrier, Advance Directives and privacy rights will also be reviewed.

The day before you are admitted, you may wish to call ahead and ask the admitting supervisor if they will accept a photocopy of your driver's license and the front and back of your insurance card. This will allow you to leave these documents safely at home.

The admitting clerk will ask if you have an Advance Directives in place.

This is not the same as a Durable Power for Health!

Both the Durable Power for Health and Advance Directives are considered legal documents.

The Durable Power for Health is created with the assistance of either a lawyer or paralegal for the purpose appointing a representative in the event you are determined to be mentally or physically unable to make your own health care decisions.

While your Durable Power for Health names your representative, it does not necessarily provide your representative with instructions on the extent or type of care you would want to be provided.

The Advance Directives (or Living Will) can be created without the assistance of a lawyer or paralegal. The purpose of the Advanced Directive is to clearly spell out in advanced, the extent and type of medical care you wish to receive in the event you are not able to speak for yourself.

The Advance Directive is basically an instruction guide for your appointed representative and healthcare team to insure your healthcare wishes are met. The Advance Directive removes the guess work your appointed representative may face if you only had a Durable Power of Health.

The Advance Directives allows you to clearly state your healthcare wishes in advance. With so many health treatment options, it is important that you provide your representative with clear instructions.

Do you want to be placed on a ventilator if you were determined to be brain dead? Do you want dialysis if you experience kidney failure? When would you consider stopping treatments?

These are difficult questions to think about, but the more specific you are, the more useful the Advanced Directives form is for your healthcare advocate and your healthcare team.

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If you live in the United States, the admitting clerk will also (briefly) inform you of your privacy rights (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act/HIPAA). A HIPAA release form will allow the hospital to release clinical and/or financial information to friend/family members you have listed on the form.

Please do not assume (!!!) that your spouse will have access to your medical information!!! By law, the only people who can access your medical information are the healthcare providers directly involved in your care!!!

Consider that hospitals and other healthcare professionals have no way of knowing if you are in the middle of an ugly divorce, have a nosy neighbor or a stalker! I have received calls from people posing as siblings trying to access information related a patient, only to discover that the patient was an only child! Because of similar situations, HIPAA is in place to protect your information.

While HIPAA is inconvenient, the law was created with you and your right to privacy in mind.

Once the administrative paperwork has been completed by the admitting department, your nurse will need to obtain your medical history. This is a great time to whip out a copy of your health information sheet, medication flow sheet and list of over-the-counter medications.

Be sure to include anything that may have caused you nausea/vomiting, rash, difficulty breathing or any other adverse reaction. This could include tapes, foods, or latex products. If you are undergoing surgery, your information is triple-checked by the admitting nurse, the surgical nurse and the nurse practitioner/doctor administering the anesthesia. This is done for your safety!!

Be sure to tell the doctor and the staff if someone is waiting for you and that you would like them to receive an update on your condition after your procedure!!!

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If you are staying overnight:

Hospitals are alive with activity 24/7/365. There is always something going on! With regards to getting rest in a hospital, you have a better chance of taking a nap during a tornado than catching a few winks after you arrive at the hospital!

Mornings start around 5:00 AM as the night shift prepares to give report to the morning shift. The nurses will be checking vital signs (blood pressure, temperature, etc.); while your physician, or if you belong to an HMO, the hospitalist makes their rounds.

Because your physician works out of several hospitals, their time is very limited. If you have questions to ask him/her, be prepared!

Write down any questions you may have for your doctor before he/she makes their rounds!! You may also wish to have a copy of all your labs and the results of any diagnostic tests (radiology studies, cardiac studies, et. al.) to review with your doctor and to take home with you for your health history records.

If you and your friends/family members have complex issues that you would like to discuss with your physician about your diagnosis, treatment or plans for home, in addition to preparing a list of questions/concerns for your doctor, you should ask the hospital social worker or discharge planner to arrange a family meeting.

By doing this, you are essentially allowing the doctor to schedule an appointment to discuss, at length, any concerns you may have regarding your healthcare or concerns about returning home.

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Visiting hours:

Hospitals typically post visiting hours from around 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM.

If you haven't guessed from what you have read so far, getting well requires a full days work!!!! You may be scheduled for diagnostic procedures or require treatments. Both you and the hospital staff need to be able to freely work towards your recovery without interruptions!!!!

Visiting hours are created for your benefit.

Visitors can also be tiring! Even sitting up can be taxing. This "effort" can drain what little energy/resources you have and that you need to get well. I can safely say that, your healthcare team is aware of how hard it is to say "please leave!!! I am exhausted!"

By limiting the visitation hours your health team can insure:

  • You have the privacy to perform your personal care.
  • You have the opportunity to work with your healthcare team with respect to any therapy, or treatments and/or to be able to undergo any diagnostic procedures without worrying if you will miss your friend/family member's visit.
  • Prevents you from becoming overly exhausted trying to "entertain" your guest or feeling like the "bad guy" by telling your guest you are tired and need your rest!

Please remember, while you do have a "right" to refuse care or to "entertain" your guests, your primary responsibility is to get well. Visiting hours and treatments are set up for your health, not for the health or convenience of your healthcare team. Please help them help you!

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Resources and References

State-specific Advance Directives for United States

Information about Canada's Advanced Directives

An Example of a Visitor Guide-Pre-admission

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