HELP LINE: Medicare offers checklist for hospitalizations

IF YOU’RE HAVING to go to the hospital for something, what’s the first thing on your mind?

Right. Getting through/surviving/recovering from whatever it is that’s putting you in the hospital.

And, when you’re actually in the hospital, what’s the first thing on your mind?

Right. Getting out of the hospital.

So, would you care to hazard a guess as to what’s one of the biggest and most consistent points of screw-ups in our health care system?

Well, OK …

Sure, there’s that …

Yeah, point taken …

Alright, let me try again: What would you imagine is one of the junctures in our health care system where we are most likely to screw up, thus increasing the likelihood of landing back in the hospital?

Right. Trying to get out of the hospital.

Specifically, we’re often so focused on getting the heck out of here that we don’t focus on what we have to do to stay out of here, so we end up back in here.

Think “discharge planning.”

If we’re lucky, a discharge planner, a nurse, or someone will come in and sit down with us and whomever it is that we have with us (and is going to help take care of us) and go over what to expect, what to do, what not to do, when to do or not do it, who to call for help, meds, what appointments to make, etc. ad infinitum.

We nod, smile, say “OK” or “… mm-hmm …” and, maybe, ask a few miscellaneous questions.

But what we’re really thinking is, “Get me the heck out of here.”

So, we get the heck out of there, get home and screw up because we didn’t listen, didn’t hear, didn’t understand, didn’t write it down or just don’t remember. And, when we screw up at a time like this, almost nothing good will happen.

I have a suggestion: go to or go to and click on “Forms, Help & Resources,” scroll down to “Free Medicare publications,” and enter “Your Discharge Planning Checklist” in the search area.

What you’ll get is (eureka), “Your Discharge Planning Checklist,” a nifty little six-page checklist that will help you get through and keep track of all the stuff you’re supposed to do (or not do) in order to stay the heck out of there.

Yes, this is generated by Medicare, but it’s actually a darn good little checklist for anybody who’s going into the hospital for anything. And it’s free, so …

Print it.

I would suggest that you print it, and actually read it, before you go into the hospital so that you have a chance to think about and understand it.

Hopefully, you’re going to have someone with you and helping to take care of you after the hospitalization, so have them read it, too, because … we tend to not feel so great when we’re in the hospital so it might be smart to have someone who’s firing on all cylinders listening, asking questions and actually writing things down.

This isn’t rocket science, and the checklist isn’t written for Ph.Ds.

It’s written for you and me in understandable language and can genuinely help — if we let it.

If some parts don’t apply, fine, but for the parts that do, take the time, get it right and write it down.

Not a computer person?

OK, then call any of the numbers at the end of this column and ask a genuinely decent person to print one out and mail it to you.

They will. For free. It’s what we do.

Or, you could just blunder headlong into a hospitalization, secure in the notion that everything will go swimmingly, and that you’ll emerge magically armed with everything you need to know and do, including the wherewithal to do it.

I admire your faith.

I’ll take the checklist.


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 [email protected].

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