You’re going about your day when suddenly you feel excruciating pain hits you. You collapse to the ground, gasping for air, and your body feels like it’s on fire. Next thing you know, you’re in the back of an ambulance rushing to the nearest hospital.
It can happen to anyone. It is even more likely to happen to someone with a chronic disease. So what happens next? What do you do?
Here’s what anyone with a chronic condition should know in case they unexpectedly land in the hospital.
Know your medications and drug allergies.If you have a chronic illness, or multiple illnesses, chances are you take an array of medications. Carry a list in your wallet or purse with the name(s) of your condition(s), types of drug allergies, and the names, strengths, and dosage of your prescriptions. But don’t depend solely on the list. If possible, you should have it memorized in case you’re rushed to the hospital and you don’t have it on you. You should know what medications you’re on and how often you take it, even when you’re not in an emergency. Inform the hospital staff or EMT crew of your medications and drug allergies as soon as possible to avoid any dangerous drug reactions or combinations.
Contact your chronic disease specialist.If you don’t remember your medical history, they will know it. They also know better than an ER doctor which treatment or course of actions works best for a flare up. Your specialist’s office or cell numbers should be saved in your cell phone. Have your specialist talk to the hospital doctors to advise them on treatment and help fill in any medical knowledge gaps. It’s important to remember that most of the doctors you will come in contact with at the hospital specialize in general or emergency medicine. They are not specialized in one specific chronic condition. Why does it matter? Because this means you have to be even more on top of your game. You may have to educate them on the specifics of your condition, especially if it’s a rare or lesser-known condition.
Always have extra medicine at home.
If for some reason you are on a rare medication that the hospital pharmacy does not have or cannot access, have a friend or family member grab it from your supply at home and bring it ASAP. The medicine will be submitted to the hospital pharmacy for them to record and administer to you. The last thing you want is to go without your usual medications on top of a flare up or emergency.
Know your insurance company policy.Do you need to get pre-approval for certain tests? Are there procedures they don’t cover? You should study your plan and know the answers to these questions. If you don’t or you are unsure, call your insurance company or have a family member call them to** find out the details**. Obviously, your health is the most important concern, but you also don’t want to be discharged with a $350,000 hospital bill that could have been preventable. The last thing you want after a frightening health scare is a stressful financial ordeal.
Be your own advocate.Let’s be honest: You are most likely one out of hundreds of patients in a hospital at any given time. Nurses and doctors are often overloaded with cases. What this means is that you need to speak up. Tell the hospital staff about any special medical accommodations needed — food allergies, migraine triggers, respiratory irritants, etc. — during your admittance to a hospital room.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is your body and health, not theirs. You deserve to know the kind of medications you are receiving and why. Don’t just blindly pop whatever pills are given to you. Take a minute to ask what it is and its side effects. You deserve to know what treatment is being recommended. Why are you getting blood tests every few hours? Why is this test necessary? If something doesn’t feel right or makes you uncomfortable, say something.** You can say no.** If you know a certain course of treatment works better for your body and condition, let them know. If you feel your treatment is inadequate at a certain hospital, you can demand to be transferred to a different hospital, though you have to be approved by both your insurance and the new receiving hospital.
Know your rights.You have a safety net while you’re in the hospital — and most people don’t take advantage of it. APatient’s Bill of Rightsvaries by state, but it covers a range of basic rights guaranteed to you by law while you’re being treated at a hospital. You will receive a copy of these rights when you’re admitted. You may be tempted (like many people) to sign it and toss it aside. Instead, read it over carefully and follow up with a nurse with any questions. A Patient’s Bill of Rights includes the right to discuss and ask questions about treatment and options, right to refuse recommended treatment, right to transfer hospitals, and right to privacy, among others. One caveat to note: It is the patient’s responsibility to ask for clarification and/or to understand their health status, prescribed treatment, and instructions. Once again, speak up and ask questions** Use the patient advocate.**
There is a patient care advocate at almost every hospital. Their job is to ensure any complaints or problems you have are addressed and the hospital complies with your rights as a patient. If you feel your care or accommodations are not sufficient, you can contact them. Ask the nurse or floor supervisor for the patient advocate’s name and number.
Fill out an advance directive.An advance directive is a document that outlines your preferences for end-of-life care. This includes instructions on life support, CPR, blood transfusions and more. While it’s never pleasant to think about, people with life-threatening or terminal chronic illness should be prepared. An advance directive varies by state and is used should a patient be unconscious or unable to make decisions. Having an advanced directive also prevents forcing a family member or loved one with making these difficult life decisions. Another option, either in place of or in addition to an advanced directive, is a** health care proxy**. This document grants someone with health care power of attorney, which means they will make all health care decisions for you if you are unable to yourself.