HELP LINE: Keep a checklist of questions to ask

MOST OF US, at one time or another and whether we like it or not, end up in a hospital.

Coincidentally, many of us don’t feel real well when we’re in the hospital which is, often, why we’re in the hospital.

One of the many unintended side effects of not feeling real well in a hospital is that most of us aren’t as sharp as we might otherwise be because we don’t feel real well and are in a hospital.

And, as many of us well know, one of the more dramatic (or traumatic) challenges associated with being in a hospital is getting out of the hospital.

Specifically: What do I do? Where and when do I do it? Who’s going to do it to me? And where are they going to do it?

This is what’s referred to as “discharge planning,” meaning what the heck ought to happen when I get the heck out of here.

The first rule of being in a hospital (or any healthcare setting, including just going to see your doctor or provider) is to make every reasonable attempt to avoid doing it alone — and not just because you need your hand held (although, that’s not an altogether bad idea).

It’s mostly because most of us need another person’s mind, ears and memory to help us understand and incorporate everything that comes at us.

Often (but not always), as getting out of a hospital looms large, you’ll be visited by a discharge planner.

Their title might be something a little different, but if you ask him or her if he or she is the discharge planner, they’ll tell you yes or no.

The role of a discharge planner is to help you understand what needs to happen in order for you to do as well as possible once you’re out of there.

So here’s Rule No. 1 for speaking with the discharge planner: Don’t lie.

Think I’m kidding?

Many of us are forever lying to discharge planners because we’re scared of what they’ll do if they know the truth, which usually translates into if they know how much help I really need they’ll put me someplace that I don’t want to be or make me do something I don’t want to do.

Here’s what discharge planners can make you do: Nothing.


They have no power over you whatsoever, so quit worrying about that and try to remember that they are trying to help you, so tell the truth and pay attention.

But even in the best possible circumstances, these conversations are often difficult because we get too much information and too much paper in too short a conversation, and we weren’t feeling all that sharp in the first place, remember?

Besides, we often don’t even know what to ask until we’re someplace else and realize that there’s a problem such as, “Oh, piffle. How do I get up off the toilet?”

And many of you know that, once again, I’m not kidding.

Well, here’s something that might help some of us at least some of the time.

Go to and you’ll find a nifty little six-page document called “Your Discharge Planning Checklist.”

You don’t have to be on Medicare to use this, and you could use it if you’re leaving a hospital or a skilled nursing facility/rehab facility/nursing home or any other health-care setting.

It’s very straightforward and we can all understand it.

It just reminds you to ask about (and write down) things such as what to expect from your medical issue, what you can do to help yourself get better, what to do if there are problems (and how to know if you were even having a problem), what prescriptions do you have and/or need and when and how to take them, what appointments do you have in the next few weeks, what might you need help with and who’s going to help, what equipment you might need, what does your insurance cover (or not) and what can you do about that, etc.

It isn’t rocket science, it’s a checklist, and its reason for being is to help you remember what you might not remember because you weren’t feeling too sharp because you were in the hospital.

If you’re the caregiver (which just means the person who’s going to be providing most of whatever help to the patient until he or she can do it on their own), there are some questions that you might want to ask and write down the answers.

The last page is a list of national resources that might help you get onto the scent of finding local help if you need it and, of course, you can always call any of the numbers at the end of this column.

You will probably also get written discharge instructions from the hospital — that’s good, but only if you know what they mean, so if you aren’t sure, ask.

Believe me, you won’t be the first and this isn’t a test.

Is this absolutely guaranteed to cover the entire ballpark?

Of course not. This is Earth.

The biggest mistake that most of us (including caregivers) make is that when we get home and find out that we should have asked this or that, or don’t remember whatever (because we didn’t write it down), we don’t call and ask. We guess.

Good luck with that, but don’t be surprised if you’re back in the hospital again, talking to the discharge planner. Again.

Remember, the object of the game isn’t to look smart.

The object of the game is to go home, get better and stay home.

That’s smart.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing

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