Too many patients end up back in the hospital in just a few weeks. Often, it’s because they miss their follow-up doctor’s appointments or can’t get to the drug store to get prescribed medicines.

And, too, a recent Yale study revealed that fully 75% of patients aged 65/older don’t understand their medication routine after leaving the hospital — or they get an incorrect prescription at discharge. This problem is not likely limited to seniors: numerous other studies have confirmed that patients forget up to 80% of what their doctors and nurses tell them, and this doesn’t change at discharge.

No wonder about 20% of patients end up back in the hospital!

So what can you do to help prevent a round trip back to the hospital?

  • Make sure your loved one gets the correct medications filled.
  • During the hospital stay, don’t be afraid to ask nurses or doctors to help you plan for care post-discharge — that’s part of their job, and they’ll be glad to know you’re thinking ahead.
  • On the day of discharge, don’t hesitate to ask questions until every detail is crystal clear and take good notes. (It’s OK to ask for as much time as you need to “get it right.”)
  • Go over meds your loved one was taking when admitted and those prescribed going forward. Discuss changes – understand why for each one.
  • For every medication, ask:
    • What is this for?
    • What are the signs it’s working? What are the symptoms it’s not working?
    • What are the potential side effects?
    • How does this work with other meds taken (even vitamins, herbal supplements, drugstore-type aids)? Are they safe together?
    • Any limitations for activity and diet?
    • Who should we call if we have more questions or concerns? (Note: is a good source of medication info, and it’s always a good idea to double-check these details. WebMD offers a free app, too.)
  • If your loved one is 65 or older, look up every prescribed drug to see if it’s on the Beers list of “caution” medications for older adults. If you find one of these prescribed for your loved one, be sure to bring this to the doctor’s attention.
  • Help your loved one create a good, safe system for managing medications at home. Think about special pillboxes, apps, alarms, and checklists… anything that makes it easier to take meds safely. (If you are stumped for ideas, ask your pharmacist.)
  • Check-in with your loved one frequently, at least once a day for at least a month after discharge. Be on alert for signs of trouble.
  • If you have any concerns whatsoever, don’t hesitate to call a doctor.

All of these details can be daunting, but you are so smart to be proactive. It’s downright scary when patients of any age don’t have a handle on their medication instructions: now you know how to help!

When it comes to managing medications, the old saying “It’s better to be safe than sorry” couldn’t be timelier.