Stepping through your front door after a hospital stay can bring relief and the comfort of familiar surroundings. But coming home from the hospital is also the beginning of an important phase – post-hospital care – the blueprint for your recovery journey. Ensuring a safe transition requires planning and understanding what lies ahead. Do you know what you’ll need to make the transition to home easier? If you’re having surgery, do you know the questions to ask before surgery to make your post-hospital life easier? This article provides tips and strategies for a seamless transition back to your home.
What does “post-hospital care” mean?
Coming home after a hospital stay can stir up a mix of emotions. Relief, certainly, but also perhaps anxiety about the road to recovery ahead. Importantly, “post-hospital care” plays a crucial role in your journey back to health. But what does it involve?
A straightforward definition.
Simply put, post-hospital care refers to the medical care and support you receive after coming home from the hospital. It’s the bridge between hospital treatment and your return to everyday life. Think of it as a tailored plan to cover your health needs as you recover in the comfort of your own home.
The significance of a post-hospital care plan.
Why does it matter? Because the right care after a hospital discharge can mean the difference between a smooth recovery and potential complications. It ensures you follow through with the treatment plan, stay on top of medications, and get back on your feet as soon as possible.
Encountering typical post-discharge hurdles.
You’re likely to face several challenges once you get back home. Adjusting to a new routine, managing medications, and even simple tasks like preparing meals or personal grooming can seem daunting.
A well-thought-out post-hospital care plan can help you manage any obstacles, reduce your risk of rehospitalization and promote a faster, safer return to normalcy.
Setting the stage: getting your home ready for your recovery.
Stepping through your front door after a hospital stay can be reassuring, yet it marks the beginning of an important phase: your recovery at home.
Create a comfortable, accessible space.
Your home should be a sanctuary for healing, not a series of potentially dangerous obstacles. If you can’t manage needed tasks by yourself, ask a relative or friend for help.
Consider the following:
Set up a bed on the first floor.
Importantly, if you expect to have limited mobility, a temporary bed on the ground floor will save you from going up and down the stairs. You may qualify for a rental of a hospital bed (ask your doctor), or you may have to relocate a bed from an upstairs bedroom to a downstairs living area.
Importantly, falls are common after hospitalizations and can be dangerous. To reduce your risk, clear pathways to allow easy movement through your home. For starters, remove area rugs and power cords that could cause tripping. Place frequently used items within easy reach. And rearrange furniture that would cause tripping or get in your way as you move around the house.
Since inadequate lighting can make it easier to trip or fall, make sure the lighting is adequate – especially in hallways and staircases.
Additionally, if you expect to use a walker or wheelchair upon your return home, ensure you have ample space to maneuver.
Make your bathroom safer.
Because it’s easy to slip and fall in the shower, consider adding grab bars in the shower. Additionally, adding grab bars next to the toilet will reduce your risk of falling. And add non-slip mats in the bathroom to prevent falls.
Gather medications and supplies.
Having everything you will need ready for your arrival will make your transition easier.
Ask your doctor if you will need new medications upon your return. Since it’s best to have needed medications available when you get home, try to pick them up before you enter the hospital. If that is not possible, ask a loved one to pick them up for you or try to get them delivered to your home.
Wound care supplies.
Ask your doctor what supplies you will need and gather them together.
Order needed medical equipment.
After a hospital stay, you may need special equipment such as a hospital bed, hoists for lifting and moving you, a bedside commode, and/or other medical equipment. It will make your life much easier if you can have this equipment delivered to your home before you leave the hospital.
Before your hospital discharge, ask your doctor, nurse, or case manager about needed medical equipment. Importantly, ask for instructions for any medical equipment needed. Whenever possible, practice using the equipment while at the hospital, under the watch of a nurse or other healthcare provider.
Generally, a case manager can order equipment on your behalf. If not, the case manager should provide names of vendors and a list of exactly what you need. Ask a trusted friend or family member to wait at your home on the designated delivery date.
Your roadmap to recovery.
Your journey home from the hospital is just the beginning. Now, it’s time to map out your path to full health. A clear and personalized post-hospital care plan is your roadmap, detailing every step of your recovery process.
Work with your healthcare providers.
Work closely with your doctors and nurses before discharge to create a comprehensive care plan. Your plan should include medication schedules, physical activity recommendations, follow-up appointments, and guidance on when to reach out for help. Importantly, realize your provider’s input is invaluable, but make sure your plan suits your unique health needs.
Develop a personalized care strategy.
Your care plan must be tailored to fit your needs and lifestyle. It will likely encompass:
- Specific goals for your recovery.
- A schedule for taking medications.
- Times for rest and activity.
- Directions for any necessary medical equipment.
- Contact information for healthcare providers.
- Therapeutic activities and checkpoints for gauging your progress.
As you recover, keeping track of improvements and challenges will help you and your doctor access your progress. For instance, make note of how well you can move around, changes in your pain levels, and any improvements in your overall health.
Know how to reach your medical team.
Put together a list of healthcare provider contacts – including how to reach medical staff on nights and weekends.
Medication management after coming home from the hospital.
After a hospital stay, it’s critical to correctly handle your medications. Importantly, taking the right medication at the right time will reduce your risk of complications and promote healing.
Since mistakes can delay your recovery or, worse, lead to readmission, you must develop a plan to make sure you take your medications as prescribed.
It’s especially important to avoid anything that could interfere with the effectiveness of your medication, which may include certain foods and alcohol, which can complicate how your body processes medications.
Techniques for managing prescriptions.
Fortunately, there are several simple steps you can take to make sure you don’t miss a dose or accidentally take a double dose. For example, you should:
- Keep a written or digital log of all your medications, including dosages and times.
- Use pill organizers labeled by day and time to avoid confusion.
- Set alarms as reminders to take each dose.
Additionally, consider using one of the many apps available that will not only remind you when to take your pills but can also provide information on potential drug interactions.
Moreover, you can download a copy of Zaggo’s Medication and Treatment Chart to make it easier to keep a written log of your medications (scroll down to the footer).
For more information, read 10 Tips for Avoiding Medication Issues After a Hospital Stay.
Nutrition: fueling your recovery engine.
Importantly, proper nutrition can significantly impact your recovery speed and quality post-hospitalization. It’s time to consider food part of your post-hospital care – like medicine you take at the dining table.
Good nutrition is vital for wound healing, rebuilding muscle strength after surgery and providing the energy your body needs to heal. Your diet is fuel for the various repair processes happening in your body.
Basic dietary advice for healing.
Since nutrition is so important to your recover after coming home from the hospital, consider these suggestions to promote healing through nutrition:
Focus on eating:
- Protein-rich foods.
- Fruits and vegetables, including those containing zinc, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
- Whole grains.
Additionally, make sure you:
- Stay hydrated.
- Get enough calories.
How can you find nutritional advice tailored to your needs?
Each person’s needs are unique, especially when recovering from illness or surgery. A dietitian can provide a nutrition plan customized to your health status, which can be particularly important if you have dietary restrictions or need to manage conditions such as diabetes.
Ask your doctor for recommendations for a dietitian who has experience helping people with your condition.
Are you wondering what the difference is between a dietitian and a nutritionist? A nutritionist is an expert on nutrition. A dietitian is a nutritionist with specialized training in food and nutrition. Importantly, there are strict professional regulations for dietitians. Therefore, these professionals are referred to as “registered dietitians,” or “registered dietitian nutritionists.
Spotting red flags.
As you recover at home, it’s critical to stay alert to signs that may indicate a problem. Recognizing red flags on time can help you avoid serious setbacks.
Learn to recognize warning signs.
Your healthcare team should provide a list of symptoms to watch out for, including increased pain, redness or swelling around surgical sites, signs of infection, or unexpected reactions to medications. Being familiar with these signs helps you respond quickly should they arise.
What should you do if you notice a concerning sign or symptom?
If you notice any red flags, don’t wait. Contact your healthcare provider immediately. Quick action can often prevent minor issues from becoming major complications. Remember, it’s always better to be cautious and get a professional opinion.
Understand when to seek care at an emergency room.
Sometimes, symptoms may warrant a visit to the emergency room. For instance, severe chest pain, difficulty breathing, or sudden weakness can be signs of life-threatening conditions and require immediate attention.
Importantly, ask your doctor what types of symptoms can be handled through a phone call or scheduling an office visit and what kinds of symptoms require emergency care.
Gentle movements: pacing your way back to health.
After returning home from the hospital, reintroducing physical activity into your routine is a delicate balance. Although it may feel scary, gentle movements often pave the way for a steady and safe return to health.
Importantly, ask your doctor for specific instructions regarding what activities you should participate in at each step of your recovery. Moreover, make sure you know how to recognize when it’s time to increase your activity level and when it’s time to back off.
Start with light activity.
Generally, starting with low-intensity activities will get you moving without overexertion. Walking short distances and performing light household tasks can increase your mobility. Always listen to your body—if you feel pain or fatigue, take it as a cue to rest.
Incremental progress is key.
As you regain strength, your doctor will likely want you to gradually increase the duration and intensity of your activities. The goal is to build up your endurance without pushing too hard. If needed, a physical therapist can create an exercise plan that progresses at a pace appropriate for your recovery stage.
Regularly assess your abilities.
It’s important to evaluate how your body responds to increased activity regularly. If activities become easier, it’s a sign you can add a little more to your routine. However, any increase in discomfort means you should scale back and give your body more time to heal.
Build support networks.
Post-hospital care shouldn’t be a solo journey. Having a robust support network can make a significant difference in your recovery process. Now is the time to lean on your family and friends and to take advantage of offerings in your community.
The strength of family and friends.
Family members and friends can provide both emotional and practical support. They can assist with daily tasks, help manage appointments, or simply offer a listening ear. Make sure to communicate openly with them about your needs and limitations.
Lean on community support offerings.
The road to recovery extends beyond the confines of your home and into the broader community. Embracing community support services can provide additional assistance in your recovery journey.
Begin by identifying the community resources available to you. That might include social workers, local charities, support groups for specific health conditions, or community centers offering programs for individuals recovering from medical procedures. You may also find avenues of support through your Church or Temple.
You may find it helpful to take advantage of community health services like rehabilitation centers or home health care options. These services can offer physical therapy, counseling, or other therapies as part of your recovery plan. Your healthcare provider may be able to recommend reputable services in your area.
Connect with peer support groups.
Peer support groups provide the opportunity to share experiences and tips with others who are on similar recovery paths. This exchange can offer practical advice and emotional solace, reminding you that others understand your journey.
Ask your doctor about the availability of hospital-based peer support groups, search online for groups that either meet in your community or meet online. Additionally, you may find a Facebook group for people dealing with your medical condition.
Do you need expert assistance?
If you have extensive support needs, consider hiring professional caregivers. They are trained to handle the nuances of post-hospital care, from medication management to personal care, and can provide specialized assistance.
How do you know if you need professional help?
Certainly, if you have no family or friends who are willing or able to help you, a paid caregiver can provide the help and support you need.
However, you may also want to get professional assistance if you have complex care needs beyond what your family or friends can provide, such as wound care or help with rehabilitation exercises. Signs you might need expert help include difficulty managing daily activities, frequent readmissions to the hospital, or lack of progress in recovery.
What are your home health care options?
Home health care services can provide skilled nursing care, physical therapy, and other medical services in the comfort of your own home. Importantly, they work with your doctors to follow your post-hospital care plan and adjust it as needed.
For tips on how to choose a home healthcare provider, read this post (note: although this post is for end-of-life care, the last half of the post covers how to select home healthcare providers).
Consider professional care coordination.
A care coordinator or case manager can be instrumental when juggling multiple follow-up appointments and complex medication regimens. For instance, they can help coordinate your overall care, ensure you’re following doctors’ orders, and spot potential problems before they escalate.
For more information, read How Can a Health Advocate Help You?
Your quick reference lists.
Certainly, post-hospital care at home can be complex. To make it easier, use this concise, quick reference list that includes quick tips for a safe and effective transition home.
Home safety checklist.
- Remove tripping hazards (rugs, loose wires).
- Ensure good lighting, especially in hallways and staircases.
- Place frequently used items within easy reach.
- Keep a current list of all medications and dosages.
- Use a pill organizer to track daily intake.
- Set reminders for medication times.
- Stock up on healthy foods that aid recovery.
- Plan and prep meals in advance if possible.
- Stay hydrated with water and electrolyte-balanced drinks.
Activity and rehabilitation.
- Follow the exercise plan set by your healthcare provider.
- Incorporate gentle activities, like walking, into your daily routine.
- Avoid strenuous activities unless approved by a doctor.
Warning signs to monitor.
- Keep a list of symptoms that warrant a call to your doctor.
- Know which symptoms require immediate emergency care.
- Regularly check for any changes in your condition.
Support system coordination.
- Identify friends, family, or caregivers who can assist with daily tasks.
- Keep a schedule of visits or check-ins from your support network.
- Consider professional care services if more help is needed.
Importantly, remember the path to recovery is unique for everyone. However, the right knowledge, a solid plan, and a support network will make this journey easier to navigate. Embrace the small victories along the way, stay vigilant about your health, and lean on those ready to help. Your commitment and these strategies will collectively smooth your transition to wellness, ensuring you’re thriving.
For more information that can help you recover after coming home from the hospital, read the following posts:
- How to Recover Faster After Surgery.
- Majority of Patients Don’t Understand Discharge Instructions.
- How To Care for Someone Who Is Bedridden at Home.
I wrote this article in collaboration with Bonnie Carey, a seasoned health writer and former nurse dedicated to helping readers navigate the complexities of post-hospital care. With over a decade in the medical field, Bonnie combines her clinical experience and passion for writing to provide empathetic, practical advice for those on the path to recovery. Her work aims to simplify the healthcare journey, making it accessible to all.