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Preparing for Your Hospital Stay

Topic Overview

Not all hospital stays begin in the emergency room. Sometimes you have time to prepare for a scheduled hospital stay. But even when you don't have an emergency medical problem, getting ready to go to the hospital may leave you feeling overwhelmed and even a little stressed. By taking steps to prepare for your stay ahead of time, you can get control of some of that stress and save that energy for feeling better as soon as possible.

Plan ahead for those medical bills

Most insurance plans require that you let them know ahead of time about your hospital stay. If you don't, there's a risk that the plan will refuse to cover your stay.

You'll also want to make sure that the hospital you're going to is covered under your plan.

If you have no insurance

If you don't have insurance, call the hospital's billing department before your stay and ask them what they can do to help you. Many hospitals have financial counselors. They will likely arrange a payment plan for you. They may even offer you a discount.

Your hospital may offer a larger discount if you pay all or some of the bill ahead of time. You may also be able to negotiate with various care providers to lower the cost of your stay and treatment.

If you have little or no income, you may qualify for a hospital's charity care program or government assistance.

Make your wishes known to loved ones

Before you go into the hospital, fill out a living will and medical power of attorney.

It's smart to have these documents ready—and to make sure your loved ones know where they are—because in the unlikely event that they're needed, they will be a huge help to your family.

  • Living will. This is a document that states your wishes about end-of-life medical treatment if you are unable to speak for yourself.
  • Medical power of attorney. This document names a health care agent, someone you choose who will make medical decisions on your behalf when you're not able to do so.

Decide about banking blood

If you are going to have surgery and expect to need a blood transfusion, you may want to bank your own blood a few weeks before the surgery. If you do need a transfusion, doctors can use your own blood.

Many people consider this choice to protect themselves from the risks of disease or mismatched blood that are linked to blood transfusion. Talk to your doctor about your risks.

Take care of pre-hospital tasks

Check that you have arranged for things to be taken care of while you're gone—like child and pet care, yard care, collecting your mail, and paying your bills.

If possible, ask a relative or other loved one to be your helper, to go with you to the hospital and be with you as much as possible during your stay. This person can keep an eye on you, alert nurses when needed, make sure your questions get answered, and take notes when the doctor visits you.

If you're going in for surgery, follow the instructions exactly about when to stop eating and drinking.

Make a hospital packing list

Fill out and collect all your paperwork, including:

  • Your insurance card.
  • A list of emergency contact names and phone numbers.
  • Any forms—already filled out by you—that the hospital has given you ahead of time.
  • A record of your family medical historyfamily medical history(What is a PDF document?).
  • A list of all medicineslist of all medicines(What is a PDF document?)—including vitamins and supplements—that you take. Most hospitals want you to leave your actual medicines at home. Some hospitals want you to bring all your medicines with you so that a nurse can make his or her own list for the hospital, and then a family member takes the medicines back home. If you don't know which method your hospital uses, call the hospital or ask your doctor.
  • A list of any allergies you have.
  • Copies of your living will and medical power of attorney.

Ask your doctor if you need to bring copies of any lab results or X-rays with you. You probably won't, but it's a good idea to check.

Personal items

Remember to take personal items you need to use every day, such as:

  • Your eyeglasses. If you wear contact lenses, you may not want to have to deal with them at the hospital.
  • Your hearing aid (along with extra batteries), a cane, and your dentures and dentures case.
  • Your cell phone and charger or a prepaid phone card. Some hospitals don't allow cell phone use in patient rooms. If you can't bring your cell phone, bring a list of important phone numbers.
  • Toiletries, like soap, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, hairbrush, and a shaver. While the hospital may supply basic toiletries, those products may not be to your liking. Remember, though, that there is often very little storage space in a hospital room, so pack carefully.
  • Lip balm and skin moisturizer. Hospital heating and cooling systems can be very drying to your skin. Consider placing these and other frequently needed items into a fanny pack that you can clip to your bed or night stand for easy access.
  • A hat, scarf, headband, or hair clips for those days when you can't wash your hair and want to cover it up.
Comfort items
  • Several sets of ear plugs and a sleep mask to help you sleep
  • Pajamas, robe, and slippers. You may have to wear a hospital gown sometimes, but you may want to get comfortable in your own pajamas if it's allowed. Remember to think about layers of clothing, because hospital rooms may be warmer or colder than you're used to at home.
  • A few pairs of clean underwear and socks
  • A small amount of money for vending machines, the hospitality snack cart, or the gift shop. But leave most cash—and all credit cards—at home.
Relaxation items

Taking along items that will help you relax is important. Consider packing one or more of the following:

  • Your own pillow, in a distinctive pillowcase so it doesn't get mistaken for a hospital pillow
  • A music player, with ear buds or headphones
  • One or two photos of loved ones, pets, or a favorite vacation spot
  • Reading material or puzzle books
  • A DVD player or laptop computer. But think carefully about bringing expensive items to the hospital. You won't be able to keep your eye on them at all times.
Health care items
  • Take along a notebook and pen or pencil. Use this to write down questions you think of when the doctor isn't there. And later you can write down the doctor's answers.
  • Ask your doctor whether you need to bring any of your regular medicines to the hospital. You probably won't, but it's best to check.
  • Take along a bottle of hand sanitizer for your bedside table. Depending on why you're in the hospital, you may not be able to get up easily or often to wash your hands. And having the bottle in plain sight will make it easier to ask visitors to clean their hands when they come in.
Last-minute checklist
  • Shower or bathe before you leave. If you're having surgery, don't shave the surgery area yourself.
  • Remove any nail polish or makeup.
  • Remove all jewelry, including wedding rings. Not only can these things get in the way of some tests and treatments, they can also be places where germs collect and multiply.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Last Revised December 18, 2012

Last Revised: December 18, 2012

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