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Home from the hospital: How you can prepare for a smoother recovery

Alice Gomstyn By Alice Gomstyn

couple relaxing at home

Rotator cuff surgery was supposed to ease the pain in Marilyn “Penny” Joseph's right shoulder — and eventually it did. But the healing process wasn’t easy. Her arm was almost immobilized, and she needed help doing everything from getting dressed to cutting her food. "You feel helpless, you really do," remembers Penny, 62, who lives in a suburb of Sacramento, California.

If you have a hospital stay coming up, it’s smart to think about your home recovery plan now. Making arrangements in advance will allow you to focus on healing later on — instead of worrying how you’ll get your medication or restock the fridge.

Of course, when you’re hospitalized for a broken bone or bad flu, planning ahead isn’t an option. Still, many recovery challenges can be addressed before you’re discharged. Your health team and insurance provider can help you get the support you need, so that nothing gets in the way of enjoying being back at home again.

Get extra help around the house.

If you live with a partner or family member, that person may assume most of the caregiving duties. Consider bringing in extra help anyway, to cover when your caregiver is at work, running errands, or just needs a break. Once you have your helpers in place, it may be useful to assign them different responsibilities, such as…

  • Grocery shopping
  • Picking up prescriptions
  • Meal prep
  • Paying bills
  • Caring for pets
  • Housework 

If you're an Aetna member, you may be assigned a care manager who can help you or a caregiver secure additional assistance.  

During your hospital stay, a discharge planner can help coordinate caregivers if you haven’t already. "We ask who the patient lives with. If they have family, we ask permission to contact them to be part of the care planning," explains Alyssa Kizun, the director of care management at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset in New Jersey. Kizun notes that if relatives are unavailable, planners may reach out to friends, neighbors and members of your religious congregation. Paid caregivers, such as visiting nurses and home health attendants, are another option. Coverage of these services varies depending on your plan.

For extra reassurance, you may want to install a personal emergency response system in your home, says Kevin Price, a clinical care manager with Aetna. Patients can call for assistance with just a click of a button. "It gives you extra peace of mind, knowing that if you are alone in the middle of the night and you fall, help is available," he says.

Take advantage of special recovery equipment.

You may rely on a wheelchair or commode for a while. Hospital discharge planners will work with you, your health team and your insurance plan to determine what you'll need and what's covered under your benefits. They may even order for it you.

"We’ll arrange to have equipment delivered to your home. If it's a walker, you may get it delivered to hospital and take it home from there," says Ronnie Betts, director of transitional care at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, NJ.

Discharge planners may also recommend companies that can install grab bars or wheelchair ramps in your home. While these changes typically aren't covered by insurance plans, some may be eligible for reimbursement through flexible spending and health savings accounts. 

Ask for assistance in reviewing your care plan.

Learn more about common eligible expenses, and contact your plan administrator for more information.

You may be sent home with detailed instructions about wound care, medications, or symptoms to watch out for. But some patients suffer from what’s called "threshold amnesia." Once they walk out the hospital door, they forget doctors’ and nurses’ directions and have trouble understanding the discharge documents.

When you need someone to refresh your memory, your caregiver, doctor or insurance plan can help. If you're an Aetna member, you may be able to discuss your discharge instructions with a care manager. "Once you're home, we can coach you on what the care plan means and how you start using it," said Linda Mako, a registered nurse with Aetna's case management program.

In many cases, care managers receive a copy of the patient's discharge instructions and can answer questions or develop questions to ask the doctor. With a care manager's guidance, Mako says, "your conversations with your doctor can be more fruitful."

Keep your spirits up.

Recovering from a major injury or surgery is no vacation. Still, you may find it helpful to indulge in activities that don’t require much physical engagement. That might mean losing yourself in a few good books, stocking up on jigsaw puzzles or chatting with old friends online or on the phone.

Penny remembers feeling helpless and gloomy after her surgery. "You're used to doing things on your own and now you're at the mercy of someone being there to help you," she says. Read more on how emotions affect recovery.

Doing things that make you happy when your body is on the mend is more important than you might think. Depression is common after surgery, and research shows that depression can increase rates of physical problems during recovery, such as post-operative infections. 

While hospitals typically have social workers on site to address patients' emotional needs, insurance plans may also help those coping with emotional challenges after discharge. For Aetna members, care managers can perform behavioral health assessments and, when necessary, make referrals to therapists, support groups and more.

With the right planning and help from loved ones and pros, you'll truly be able to enjoy the comforts of home.

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About the author

Alice Gomstyn is a veteran parenting blogger and business reporter. She is an admitted sugar addict but plans to cut back on the sweet stuff and load up on veggies like never before. Bring on the broccoli!

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