How Families Can Help with Hospital Discharge Planning

By Eric Carter

When a loved one is in the hospital, all you can think about is getting them well enough to go home. But when the time comes to leave the hospital, it's easy to become overwhelmed with instructions from hospital staff. However, you play a key role in ensuring the safety of your loved one upon discharge. Here’s how family members can be involved with discharge planning and achieve a successful transition home for their loved one.  

What Is Discharge Planning? 

Let’s start with the basics of discharge planning. A patient is discharged from the hospital when they no longer need health care at the hospital. Usually, the doctor will speak with you and your loved one when it’s time. And other healthcare professionals, like social workers or discharge planners, may also give you instructions. 

During the discharge planning process, you should be provided with the following: 

  • Medical evaluation: You should receive a medical evaluation of your loved one before leaving the hospital. This evaluation provides a detailed description of your loved one’s condition. It should contain any specific instructions and treatments that the doctor recommends.  
  • Insurance overview: Many senior patients will be covered at least in part by insurance. The hospital should provide an overview of what services the insurance plan will cover. The overview will include the costs of required at-home treatment or medical equipment.  
  • Wellness plan: This plan should discuss any limitations that your loved one may have. It should also provide a plan to help the individual overcome those limitations or adapt to them at home. This plan may include information about diet and exercise, as well as other lifestyle changes. 
  • Referrals: Sometimes seniors need continued care from home health or an in-patient rehab facility after being discharged. The hospital should provide you with a list of recommended agencies that can help. They can also recommend companies that sell or rent medical equipment. 
  • Medications: The staff at the hospital should review your medication list with you. They will let you know if there are medications that cannot be taken together. They should also indicate if there is a specific medication schedule your loved one needs to follow. Staff will instruct you on how to dispose of medications that your loved one no longer needs. 
  • Contact information: During discharge planning, the hospital should provide you with contact information if you have any questions or problems. They should also tell you under what circumstances you should bring your loved one back to the hospital.  
  • Follow-up appointments: While in the hospital, you may help schedule follow-up appointments for your loved one. If these appointments aren’t scheduled, the hospital will let you know how to make the appointments after discharge.  

If you are not provided with this information at the hospital, ask for help and guidance before you leave. It’s important that you understand everything that your loved one will need when they get home or are transferred to a facility.  

RELATED CONTENT: Top 5 Reasons for Hospital Readmission 

How to Get Involved in the Discharge Planning Process 

The discharge planning process can be intimidating, especially if you will be caring for your loved one when they are discharged from the hospital. There's a lot to remember! Here are some tips to help you stay organized and be involved in the hospital discharge process. 


1. Ask questions

If you don’t understand something that a doctor or social worker is telling you, ask questions! As people, we have a tendency to just nod or go along with a conversation if we don’t understand. However, the hospital instructions could mean life or death for your loved one. So it’s important that you understand what you will need to do to provide proper care. 

Don’t feel embarrassed if you have to ask a lot of questions. The hospital terms and processes are all very common to doctors and healthcare workers. So they sometimes forget that it isn’t familiar to everyone else. But they want the best outcome for your loved one too, so they should be happy to help.

2. Get language assistance if needed

The hospital can provide language assistance in your native language if English is not your first language or the first language of your loved one. This could be through an interpreter at the hospital or over the phone, depending on the language and available resources. 

3. Create a detailed schedule

It can be helpful to create a detailed schedule of what your loved one will need. This schedule could include medication times, follow-up appointments, and activities of daily living. You can keep track on paper or in your phone — whatever works best for you. Having all of the times listed out can help you stay on track and know what you need to do. 

If other family members are assisting in caring for your loved one, then you can add them to the schedule too. It can be helpful to have all of the family “shifts” listed in one place.

4. Write down your own to-do list

As you speak with healthcare professionals at the hospital, it can be helpful to keep your own to-do list. For example, arrange for long-term care, rent special medical equipment, make changes to the home, etc. It can also be helpful to keep a to-do list specifically for the day of discharge, like pick up prescriptions or go grocery shopping for your loved one. 

RELATED CONTENT: Hospital to Home Step-by-Step Guide 

Post-Discharge Considerations  

After your loved one is discharged, the real work begins. If your loved one is at home, the responsibility for care falls to the family. If you are taking care of your loved one at home, here are some things to remember.  

  • Properly administer medications: Make sure your loved one takes their medication at the right time and in the right dosage. The necessary information regarding dosage and prescriptions should be on the prescription bottle itself and in your discharge instructions.  
  • Care for incisions or wounds: Care and cleaning directions for any incision sites are always included in discharge paperwork. Depending upon the exact procedure, some wounds may need careful care at home. Others require follow-up with the doctor. 
  • Prepare nutritious meals: The doctor will advise what foods and beverages are okay to eat and when it is safe to do so. Nutritious food is a key part of recovery because your loved one will need lots of nutrients and energy to heal. 
  • Watch for symptoms: The hospital paperwork should outline warning signs. Watch for changes in wellbeing and act quickly if you notice any of the red flags.  
  • Encourage movement while avoiding excess strain: It is common for discharge paperwork to include instructions regarding exercise and movement. Many surgeries or procedures require the patient to rest and limit movement once home. Others need the senior to exercise and get the blood flowing to help the body heal faster. Follow the directions closely. 
  • Attend follow-up visits: Your loved one will need to attend follow-up visits to check on their health. They may need to see specialists or their general physician. You should attend these appointments so you can ask questions and share with the doctors how your loved one is progressing.  

RELATED CONTENT: Returning Home after Hospital Discharge 

Dangers of Hospital Discharge 

While you might not think that your role in hospital discharge planning is that important, it is! Studies show that 40% of patients over the age of 65 suffer from medication errors after leaving the hospital. And 28% of patients discharged from a hospital are readmitted within 30 days. YOU can help your loved one remain safe at home and avoid readmission.  

If you need assistance navigating this process or caring for your loved one after a hospital discharge, Caring Senior Service is here to help. We have the experience, compassion, and training necessary for comprehensive home care. And we also offer a wide range of home care services that can make life easier for seniors and their families. Reach out to your local Caring team to learn more. 

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Tags: Hospital