• Steve Huffman

Now What?! Tips on Navigating an Emergency Hospitalization for Families



After 20 years in healthcare management and now making numerous hospital visits on the "other side" I have become attuned to the need to decipher the complex information more than ever. The amount of information that is shared that is quickly processed, forgotten, no understood that gets rattled off in the midst of a emergency hospitalization is mind numbing and confusing. After witnessing many many families try to communicate back what they just heard I have realized that a few tips can be helpful to families during an emergency hospitalization.

When you have a family member that has just been hospitalized:

1) Stop and realize that within the first few hours no one has the full story of what is going on - Many times the family wants the full story, what happened, what's the plan of care, are they going to be OK, will they be transferred? Within the hospital the teams are focusing on 30 different things going on at the same time to immediately care and stabilize the situation. Their immediate concern is for the patient - your family member - so even if it feels impossible, let the story be gathered in due time. I would much rather have an accurate story than snippets of guesses.

2) Focus on the NEXT thing to pray for and focus on - When you do receive information, frequently it comes like a firehouse of information that families just cannot comprehend. There is medical jargon, titles, and complexity that is being shared to be helpful but in almost every occasion it is impossible to understand and remember it all. As a pastor now I frequently will ask the family after the physician left "What did you just hear?" and what they repeat is about 50% in line with what the physician stated. What I have come to lean on is this question "What one thing should we focus on and pray for next?". This allows the family to have a generalized understanding of what is going on, but be laser specific in the NEXT step on the plan of care. It could be getting out of bed, going to the bathroom, a lab test - whatever it is if the family can focus on that one thing the level of engagement for the family goes through the roof.

3) Double the time estimates you hear - Since I have intimate knowledge of the complexity of a hospital I realize the near impossibility to give accurate times to things. Families want to know when results are back but have little understanding that four ER patients just got transported that will derail the lab for a time. Families want to known when exactly the discharge will happen but trying to track down the physicians to get all of the paperwork done is like finding Waldo at times. My suggestion to families is to set the bar low as it relates to any time estimates you hear in a hospital and just double them. It leads to less disappointment and frustration. The hospital teams are doing there best to get your family member out, but unlike a hotel or general service industry - the hospital it built to prioritize emergencies even if it means that your test or discharge has to wait longer.

4) Recognize that everyone is on your team - If you go into every interaction with the belief that every person interacting with your family member is on your team, then even when one of the team members is having a bad day, or makes a bad call you will realize that they did not do it out of spite. No one in a hospital situation wants to hurt anyone. They did not go to nursing school or medical school to make mistakes or to frustrate patients. It is a place where everyone has the same goal in mind - get your family member healthy and out of the hospital. Start with, and maintain, a belief that everyone is on your team and no one is against you. NO ONE.

5) Encourage as much as you complain - I get it - sometimes you need to bring up a concern and you might even need to complain as you see something that is slipping through the cracks! Almost every caregiver I've ever worked with is FINE with feedback as you are a member of the care team as well. Where this gets off is when a family chooses only to complain. You cannot (should not) complain and never encourage. When you encourage as much or more, the caregivers will realize that you are reasonable and listen to you even more intently. Your caregivers are stressed out and want to help as much as anyone - let them know that they are doing a good job!