Hospital stays are getting shorter and shorter. Thirty years ago, the average stay was seven days. Today, it’s down to 4.5 days and falling.

A shorter stay is beneficial in many ways: It reduces your risk of acquiring a hospital-caused infection. It means you can go home quicker and enjoy the comfort of your own home and bed. And it reduces your cost.

In addition to shortened stays, same-day surgery/treatment has eliminated the need for staying overnight in a hospital for hundreds of procedures, including many operations involving cancer or heart disease.

But shorter hospital stays and same-day surgery have some downsides. In most cases, you need time at home to recover after hospitalization or an outpatient procedure. That may require the help of a family member or friend. You may need significant follow-up procedures. Depending on your capabilities, you may have to manage a slew of new medications on a short- or even long-term basis.

Most people are not prepared for post-hospital care. We tend to overestimate our capabilities and don’t have a plan. As a result, your recovery might be slowed, or you might even need to be re-hospitalized. Here are some things you should do to make sure your post-hospitalization needs are met, and you have a successful recovery.

Plan ahead. If you know you are going to be hospitalized, discuss with your doctor what you should expect once you are discharged. Will you need help taking care of your medical needs, such as changing bandages, monitoring vital signs, or taking medications at specific times? Will you need any special equipment, such as a walker, lift chair, or hospital bed? Will you need transportation for follow-up physician appointments or post-hospitalization procedures such as chemotherapy, cardiac rehab, radiation, or physical therapy?

Be realistic. Be honest with yourself about your capabilities. Remember, you are not expected to be 100 percent when you come home from the hospital. Assess your home needs. For example, will you be able to use stairs to reach your bedroom or bath? Can your spouse meet your care needs while recovering? Do you have help to do food shopping or meet other daily needs? Do you have a reliable group of family members and friends who can provide transportation to your appointments?

Before discharge. When you are admitted to the hospital, a social worker should be assigned to your case. Based on your needs, your social worker should develop and help oversee your discharge plan. The plan should be written and include any prescriptions your doctor wants you to take and other specific actions, such as wound monitoring, physical therapy, or follow-up appointments. Your social worker should go over this plan with you and determine the help you may need in implementing the plan at home. The social worker should also be ordering the medical equipment you may need and arranging for visiting nurses (if necessary) to come to your home to deliver care.

Have an advocate. Don’t be afraid to have a friend or family member with you through this entire process. Many of us are afraid to ask questions or feel intimidated talking with doctors and nurses. Having someone you trust with you can make a world of difference and allow you to focus solely on having a complete recovery.

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