Upon learning that a friend or family member has been admitted to the hospital, a flurry of questions run through our minds. How serious is it? How can I help? Is there anyone I should contact? Our concern is genuine and our desire to help is sincere.
The first thing most of us do is try to get as much information as possible on the assumption that it will answer our questions. It’s at this point that we need to take a deep breath and decide if that moment is the right time to be asking questions.
Here are few things to think about:
If the patient is taking calls, we tend to combine a call to wish them well with a short interrogation. Again, the intention is well-meaning, but the execution may need a little work. Newly admitted patients are vulnerable. They are in an unfamiliar place facing a health crisis. they may not want to share details about the diagnosis/prognosis or the recommended treatment. They may not want visitors or, at least, unannounced visits. It’s best to ascertain their frame-of-mind before asking any questions or visiting.
If the patient isn’t taking calls, we look for family members, other close friends or relevant doctors, nurses or social workers who might be able to provide answers. Before doing so, consider the following:
The patient may not want their personal details shared beyond their immediate family
Hospitals and healthcare facilities have a legal obligation to keep patient information confidential
Patients have the right to decide and give consent before any information is disclosed.
If you are a family member and the patient is unable to speak on their own behalf, you have the right to advocate on behalf of your loved one’s privacy. No personal information can legally be shared outside of the attending medical professionals without consent.
When planning a visit, notify the patient or a family member of the date and time of your anticipated arrival. Make sure it’s a good time for the patient.
When you’re there, always leave the room when a doctor enters to speak to the patient. If the patient invites you stay, feel free to do so. If the patient is your child or you are the family advocate, you should be allowed to stay when the doctor is present.
It is important that the patient understand everything about their care. If the patient tells you or get the impression that he/she does not understand what the medical staff is telling them, take steps to correct this problem. If you are family member, speak to the doctors and nurses and let them know they need to communicate more effectively. If you’re a friend, speak a family member.
If the patient requires an interpreter, make sure one is available when medical staff is present.
Lastly, when the patient returns home, it is important to ensure that doctor’s notes and related documentation is not left out for anyone to see.