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Health & Balance

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Taking Charge of Your Hospital Stay

Experts explain four steps that empower patients to manage their health needs from a hospital bed.

Step 4: Plan Ahead

While ultimately your hospital stay may go smoothly, experts warn that few patients are prepared for what happens when they return home. Common sense dictates we won't be discharged until we are well, but over the years the very definition of that word has changed, and dramatically.

"People don't expect to leave in pain, and very often they do. They don't expect that they are going to have to find a lot of their postoperative equipment on their own -- like a hospital bed or a commode -- and they do. And all of this can be doubly difficult if you are unprepared," says Susan Reinhard, co-director of the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy, specializing in empowering health care choices for consumers.

Indeed, while even routine medical events -- like having a baby -- once came with a minimal 10- day hospital stay, Reinhard tells WebMD that today, patients having even the most difficult and complex surgeries are often discharged within three or four days.

"Recuperation that used to take place in a hospital must now take place at home, and patients need to be aware of that, and to be aware that they will likely be going home long before they themselves feel they are ready," she says.

While admittedly it's difficult to prepare for a hospitalization that is unexpected, Reinhard says if you have a chronic illness or you're simply getting on in years, it's important to focus on what your daily needs are, and think about how you'd cope if you weren't functioning at full capacity.

Then, she says, try to figure out ways to compensate and make whatever arrangements you can before going into the hospital.

"If your hospitalization takes you by complete surprise, then use as many hospital resources as you can, including social workers and patient advocates, to prepare for your homecoming," says Reinhard.

If you think you will be unable to care for yourself when you do get home, Burke says ask about rehabilitation facilities or even nursing home care, until you can get back on your feet.

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