13 Questions to Ask Before You Leave the Hospital

Here’s one thought that should be at the top of your mind before leaving the hospital: Not going back.

About 15% of all hospital stays result in readmissions in the United States, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. These readmissions can create difficulties on patients, hospitals and the health care system as a whole.

Asking the right questions before leaving the hospital can lessen your risk of readmission. Learn the importance of asking your medical team questions before leaving the hospital and what questions you should ask to help you stay healthy after discharge.

Preventing Hospital Readmissions

Reducing hospital readmissions is crucial for improving patient outcomes and optimizing health care resources. By ensuring comprehensive discharge planning and connecting patients with necessary post-discharge support, risk of readmissions can be significantly lowered.

Hospital readmissions are detrimental for several reasons, including:

— Readmissions put you at risk for hospital-acquired infections, like MRSA or urinary tract infections.

— Readmissions put a strain on health care resources, like nursing staff, or on health care payers, like Medicare.

— There is a higher risk of death associated with hospital readmissions.

Questions at the hospital are encouraged — not only to prevent a secondary admission, but also to help you understand your diagnosis and treatment and to help you care for yourself after discharge.

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

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

— With looming surgery or inpatient treatment, you might not be thinking about life outside the hospital yet.

— You don’t feel comfortable questioning medical providers.

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

Asking the Right Questions

Providers encourage a proactive approach to ensure patients understand how to manage their health at home.

Seeking support from your care team can help. Here are a few ways to approach asking questions:

Request help from a caregiver. If you have a caregiver in the hospital with you, they can remind you to ask questions and take notes on the answers. Your caregiver can write questions on the whiteboard in your room, which hospital staff update each shift.

Rely on your nurses. Nurses aren’t able to diagnose you, interpret imaging results or give you a prognosis on your condition, but they can address almost any other question. From questions on your plan of care, medications, treatments or resources at home, nurses will either know the answer or connect you to someone who does.

Get to know your attending physician. Also called a hospitalist or doctor of hospital medicine, your attending provider oversees all your inpatient care. They also give orders to and coordinate with your nurses, dietitians, physical therapists or any other specialists you may need.

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

[READ: How to Recover From Surgery]

13 Questions to Ask Before Leaving the Hospital

Here are 13 questions to ask before you are discharged from the hospital.

1. What medications do I need to use?

New medications or changes in your current medications will be one of the most important topics to understand post-discharge. There are a few things you’ll want to know about your medications, including:

— 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.

— Any side effects

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

— If you’ll need the medication over the 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

— What to do if you miss a dose of your medication

[SEE: 11 Foods Not to Mix With Prescription Medications.]

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. Understanding why you were admitted helps dial in on how to prevent the same circumstance from recurring.

For example, diabetes has one of the highest readmission rates leading to death. So, if you were admitted to the hospital because your diabetes was uncontrolled and you had dangerously high blood sugar levels, ask questions to know exactly how it happened. Then you can make the right changes at home so you won’t run into the same issue again.

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?

Your primary care provider is the liaison between all of your resources and specialists for your condition. Keeping them in the loop is key to ensuring your care team is on the same page.

Ideally, you should have a follow-up visit with your primary care provider within a few weeks post-discharge. It can be a virtual visit in some cases. However, if the admission was due to something like an infected wound, it would be best to have the visit in the clinic.

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.

“Follow-ups are crucial for the post-hospital care. Many times, patients assume that these follow-ups will be made by hospital staff, and that is generally not the case,” says Dr. Tiffany S. Di Pietro, a cardiologist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

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

It’s vital to know the signs and symptoms that should prompt you to seek medical care again.

For example, if you were admitted for a heart attack, you have higher chances of having a heart attack or a stroke. Immediate care in these situations is life-saving.

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

Your doctor may order a follow-up scan during your stay, or additional testing 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 several 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 question 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.

11. Should I stay away from certain activities or foods during my recovery?

“Knowing these restrictions could help in preventing complications and facilitate smoother recovery by avoiding certain actions that might irritate your condition,” says Sean Marchese, a registered nurse at The Mesothelioma Center in Orlando, Florida.

For example, after being admitted for acute kidney failure, you want to make sure you know how to adopt a more kidney-friendly diet before you’re discharged. Or, if you went to the hospital due to a fall, ask about how to slowly increase your activity.

12. Where can I get a copy of my hospital records?

“I always encourage my patients to obtain a copy of their pertinent medical records. This way, there is less error from patient recall and less post-hospital communication errors,” Di Pietro says.

When requesting your medical records, Di Pietro suggests asking for:

— Lab results

— Imaging

— Hospital notes, such as admission and progress notes

13. How will I pay for my hospital visit?

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.

Depending on how you’re feeling, this may be done once you’re back home versus in the hospital.

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 (such as 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.

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.

Leaving AMA could also be risky because:

— Even if you feel great now, you may be at risk for complications that are hard to catch without medical supervision.

— If you rush your hospital stay, you may not have adequate time to fully understand your condition and changes you need to make at home.

— You could miss out on results that determine other medical care that you need. For instance, you could be getting results from an MRI the following day 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.

The Bottom Line

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

But, when you take the time to ask questions before discharge, you can prevent going back to the hospital and risking further complications. Make sure you understand lifestyle changes you need to make, how to follow-up with your care team and what symptoms should prompt you to seek medication attention again.

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13 Questions to Ask Before You Leave the Hospital originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 07/10/24: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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