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What are some tips for me to help family members who are in the hospital?

Following are some tips for you to help family members who are in the hospital:

  • Record yourself singing, talking, or reading a story.
  • Put a favorite photo by their bed.
  • For children, bring them a toy animal or some of their things.
  • Even if they're asleep, they may still be able to hear you and feel your touch, so hold their hands and tell them what's happening at home or keep a diary to read to them.

As a family member or loved one of a hospitalized patient, you are an integral member of the healthcare team. The more informed you are about the patient’s care, the better! There are several ways you can participate in order to be a contributing member of this team:

  • Explain up front to the healthcare care team that you are there to help your family member and to be a part of the team caring for them.
  • Be present for rounds, shift changes, and any major conferences with the care team. If you are not invited to do so, ask when they are likely to happen. Remember that hospital care is not like factory work and schedules are not perfect—but team members may be able to align schedules if you communicate with them.
  • Take notes both for you and for your family member.
  • When the patient is recovering from surgery, see if you can arrange to be there or have another loved one with them in the room overnight until their recovery advances.
  • Arrange with other loved ones to play tag team on staying with the patient. If you are exhausted, you will not be as helpful another, well-rested family member or loved one. Let the care team know who will be there in your place, especially if the person is staying overnight.
  • Visit the hospital library to get accurate, reliable information on the patient’s problem. A librarian can help point you to reputable websites for disease and treatment information and get you reading materials you might not be able to get online. Your public library can help with this too!
Deb Cordes
Deb Cordes on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Specialist

Some tips to help family members that are hospitalized are:

  1. Bring a complete list of medications to the hospital for the nurse and doctor to review.
  2. Be sure to provide as much information to the nurse and doctor about any conditions that your family member may have.
  3. Be sure to let the nurse and the doctor know about any allergies that your family member may have.
  4. Be sure to have your family members send home any valuables so they do not get lost.
  5. Ask any health care provider and or family members who visit to wash their hands. This reduces the risk of infection.
  6. Ask as many questions of the nurse and doctor until you understand the care that is being provided to your family member.
  7. If the nurse gives a medication to your family member and it does not look familiar, please ask your nurse what it is and what it is used for. This helps to ensure that the medication your family member is receiving is the right medication.
  8. Please do not overwhelm your family member by too many visitors. They are in the hospital for a reason and some times having too many visitors is exhausting.
  9. If your family member has dentures, please make sure you bring them so they can eat their meals.
  10. If your family member is confused and the hospital allows it, ask if you can stay overnight to provide comfort to your family member.
Betty Long, RN, MHA
Nursing Specialist

While many hospitals are making great efforts to improve patient safety and quality, include families in patients' care, and improve communication throughout the hospitalization, patients can still benefit from having an advocate. And that can be you.

Here are some tips to get started:

  • When you're visiting, ask everyone who enters the patient's room if they've washed their hands. If they haven't, ask that they do. Hand washing is the #1 defense against spreading infection.
  • Ask that staff members identify themselves when they enter the room and let the patient know why they've come.
  • Ask nurses to read drug orders out loud and make sure they match the patient's ID bracelet. If it's a new medication, ask what it is being given for and what to expect in terms of side effects.
  • Do not help a patient get in or out of bed by yourself. Ask staff to help.  While you may be eager to help, you don't want your loved one to fall or injure them.
  • Never give a patient medication on your own. If you do bring in medication from home, report it to the RN.
  • In longer hospital stays, be alert for 'bedsores' (pressure wounds). If patients are unable to shift their weight or move about in bed, it can result in damage to their skin. Ask staff how often the patient is being turned and/or if a special air mattress can be used (if it's not already in place).
  • Remember that while there may be other patients who may have more urgent needs; do not hesitate to speak up if you have concerns about your loved one's care or treatment. 
  • Consider keeping a bedside journal for your observations, especially if you're sharing the in-patient advocacy duties with others. The journal can be especially helpful as a communication tool among visiting family members.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.