Questions to ask before leaving the hospital

There’s a lot going on when you stay at a hospital. There’s a constant stream of medical providers checking on you, medical tests to take and noises that aren’t part of your regular routine.

As you start to heal from what led you to the hospital, you’ll want to think ahead to your recovery. Although personnel will address this as part of your discharge, you can be proactive by asking certain questions before you leave the hospital.

Doctors and nurses welcome your questions during the discharge process, or any time during your stay, says Dr. Ruby Sahoo, a member of the Society of Hospital Medicine’s board of directors and the hospital medicine performance director at TeamHealth in Austin.

[See: Questions Doctors Wish Their Patients Would Ask.]

Questions Are Encouraged

Here’s why:

— You can gain a clearer understanding of your diagnosis and treatment.

— You’ll get a better idea of how to take care of yourself once you leave the hospital. “The more a patient understands, the better equipped they are for healing,” says Dr. Carl Cameron, chief medical officer with MVP Health Care in Rochester, New York.

— When you know the care that you need, you can help prevent a return to the hospital. A 2021 report found an average of 14% of people were readmitted within 30 days of their initial hospital stay.

[Read: Signs You Should Be Readmitted to the Hospital]

The Right Questions Can Change Your Treatment

At the same time, you might feel a little intimidated about asking questions for a few reasons:

— You’re still recovering, so you don’t feel mentally focused to process all the information you’ll receive.

— Everything going on during your stay feels confusing or overwhelming.

— You’re so focused on your hospital stay that you’re not thinking ahead to life after discharge, says Heidi Heffelfinger, manager of case management and social work at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

— You don’t feel comfortable questioning medical providers.

It’s completely normal to feel a little shy about asking questions. Hospital professionals realize this and will work with you to address what you need to know for your discharge. Still, your questions may prompt information that your health care team doesn’t know.

For instance, Wahoo says, you may be talking with your doctor about a new medication you have to use. During the conversation, you then recall you took it once before, and it caused a bad side effect. Through your questions with your health care team, they can help you find an alternate medication.

Write down questions (on your phone or on a piece of paper) as you think of them, advises Dr. Sharon Santoso Clark, an assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics, and director of patient experience in the Division of Hospital Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

Work with a family member, trusted friend or caregiver to think of questions you want to be answered. Try to have that person present during the discharge process as another set of ears. That person may ask more questions, or even take notes from the conversation.

At most hospitals, the person you will want to answer your health questions is your attending physician. This person also may be called a hospitalist or a doctor of hospital medicine. This is a primary care doctor who works for the hospital to coordinate care for patients. You can also lean on your nurses, social worker or registered dietitian depending on the type of question you have.

Once you leave the hospital, you should see your primary care doctor to help coordinate your care and check on your recovery.

[SEE: 10 Items to Pack in Your Hospital Bag.]

10 Questions to Ask Before Leaving the Hospital

Here are 10 questions to ask before you are discharged from the hospital.

1. What medications do I need to use?

Getting a clear understanding of your medication use is a very important part of the discharge process, says Dr. Theodore Strange, chair of medicine at Staten Island University Hospital in Staten Island, New York. In fact, there are a few things you’ll want to know about your medications:

— Dosage.

— When and how often to use them.

— Why you are using them.

— The exact names. Because medications often have a generic name and a brand name, you may not always recognize the name of a medication that you already use. When you get clear on the medication names, you can help avoid duplicate medication use, Strange says.

— Any side effects.

— How to take the medication (like with water, or with or without food).

— If you’ll have to use the medication short term or long term.

— Whether the prescriptions are already called into a pharmacy, or if you’ll need to make sure that they’re ordered.

Hospital personnel will provide you with written information about your medications, but it’s important to have a verbal discussion about them as well, Wahoo says.

2. Why was I admitted to the hospital? What caused this problem?

You may have been too busy recovering to fully understand why you were admitted in the first place.

3. Were there any other diagnoses made during my stay?

You may go into the hospital because of a bad asthma attack, but doctors end up diagnosing you with high blood pressure or diabetes, for instance. Asking about other diagnoses will potentially trigger other questions to help your at-home care.

4. Have you notified my primary care doctor about my admission?

You’ll want this person in the loop to help manage your condition once you’re out of the hospital, says Dr. Renée Rulin, a Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based family medicine physician with the telehealth platform PlushCare. Generally speaking, expect to have a follow-up visit with your primary care doctor one to two weeks after your discharge. This may be a virtual visit.

5. What other specialists should I see after my discharge?

Depending on your diagnosis, you may have seen other specialists, such as a cardiologist or pulmonologist (lung doctor). You’ll want to know if you need to see these specialists in the future.

6. When should I call a doctor or return to the hospital?

This helps you stay aware of more serious symptoms that require medical care, Cameron says.

7. Do I need any other follow-up studies?health tip

One example: If a CT scan found an abnormal growth in your lung, you may need a follow-up scan in a couple of months, Wahoo says. The follow-up scan may get ordered during your stay, or it may just be recommended. The latter means it’s left in your hands to schedule the follow-up, which is why this question is important.

8. What other type of care do I need when I go home?

You also may need physical, occupational or speech therapy. Your hospital health care team can let you know exactly what you need and help you identify where to find this care.

9. How long should my recovery take?

There can be a big difference between a one- or two-day recovery versus a recovery over weeks or months. Recovery may take longer if you have other medical problems, such as heart or lung conditions.

10. When should I follow up with the home health agency (or other care) after I’m home if I don’t hear from them?

This helps you know when you need to make an extra push to get your appointments scheduled.

Although these questions are discussed and answered in writing during the discharge process, it’s always good to make sure your health care team covers them with you.

Addressing Insurance and Cost With Your Hospital Stay

Whether you have insurance or you’re self-pay, there’s a whole other set of questions that you may have about the cost of your hospital stay. A hospital social worker or financial assistance staff member can speak with you about the costs involved.

If you’re concerned about the cost, ask the hospital about assistance programs or payment plans, Heffelfinger says. Depending on how you’re feeling, this may be done once you’re back home versus in the hospital.

Hospital personnel should be able to check on the cost of any medications that you have to use before you leave the hospital, Santoso Clark says. If you have insurance, these costs are based on your insurance coverage. By finding out these costs in advance, you can make sure they are affordable for you. If they aren’t, your health care team can suggest alternatives or let you know about medication assistance programs. The same applies to covering the cost of equipment you may need (like a walker or wheelchair).

Can You Ask to Be Discharged?

While you may sometimes be concerned about getting discharged from the hospital too soon, conversely, there may be an occasion when you feel ready to leave sooner. If you’re in the hospital and feeling great, you may wonder if you can leave before your health care team says it’s OK. The short answer is yes. You can leave anytime so long you have the mental capacity to make that decision. Having mental capacity means you can make your own decisions.

Making the decision to leave without a formal discharge is called AMA, or “against medical advice.”

The longer answer is that while you can do this, medical professionals do not recommend leaving against medical advice. Even if you feel great now, you still could become ill if you don’t fully know or understand your treatment plan going forward. “Without this understanding, you may become more ill,” Rulin says.

You also could miss out on results that determine other medical care that you need. For instance, you could be getting results from an MRI by tomorrow that determine whether or not you need surgery. By not waiting, you’ll miss out on that important information.

If you have concerns about wanting to leave and your hospital doctor isn’t available, discuss your concerns with a nurse.

Sometimes, just having a conversation about why you want to leave can make a difference. Wahoo shared the story of a woman who had stayed overnight and wanted to leave because she had two young children at home and was worried about them. Wahoo discussed with the patient the risks and benefits of leaving versus staying at the hospital based on the patient’s reason for admission. “We came up with a plan together knowing the difficulty at home but also what prompted admission to the hospital,” Wahoo says. The patient decided to complete her stay.

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Questions You Need to Ask Before You Leave the Hospital originally appeared on

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