by Nancy Shohet West. After my father underwent routine surgery last summer, he was discharged from the hospital within a few days—only to develop a life-threatening infection at home. Rushed back to the hospital just two days after discharge, his stay stretched into weeks.
The discouragement of waking day after day in his hospital room was overwhelming, but he also didn’t want to go home if he wasn’t truly well. He’d already done that once, and the panic that resulted when his condition dramatically worsened there had caused emotional trauma to both him and my mother. So the news after a full month of hospitalization that he was probably okay to be discharged came as a mixed blessing. Home at last—but how to ensure that he stayed well?
It turned out that the hospital had an answer to this. He would be assigned a visiting nurse rotation. Every day for as long as they deemed it beneficial, one member of a team of medical professionals would pay an old-fashioned house call. The visiting nurses would not only execute the hands-on tasks of changing his dressings and flushing out his portable IV tube but would also monitor his overall condition from day to day and answer any questions he had. Dad could (and did) recuperate in privacy and comfort, but the oversight of his recovery wouldn’t be left exclusively to his and mom’s watch.
What happened to my father wasn’t unusual. According to a story published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, one in five Medicare patients who are discharged from the hospital is readmitted within one month. How can patients ensure that they are not part of this statistic? One way is to solicit professional help with their home care.
Visiting nurses can be the quintessential win-win situation for a patient who is recovering from a hospitalization or learning to cope with a chronic condition. It costs insurance companies as well as patients an infinitesimal fraction of what a hospitalization would. Moreover, recent changes in legislation are giving hospitals an additional incentive to take measures against readmission: as of October 2012, hospitals will be penalized for re-admissions that could have been prevented under certain circumstances.
Visiting nurses aren’t only for medical treatments, either. The range of services their specialists can provide include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language services, resource counseling, personal hygiene assistance and even support with outside medical appointments. Some specialize in areas such as Alzheimer’s patient support or veteran care. Home health aides, who do not typically have the medical training of visiting nurses, provide company and personal support for patients who do not have critical medical concerns but can benefit from outside help.
The primary organization that certifies standards for visiting nurses is the Visiting Nurse Associations of America. A visit to their website will provide a host of useful information, including how to find a visiting nurse group in your region, what to expect from a visiting nurse, and how your insurance company might alleviate the expense, depending upon the type of care.
Would the health situation you are trying to manage benefit from the help of a visiting nurse? It’s quite possible. You can learn more about the visiting nurse associations (VNAs), including how their services and quality assurance compare to other local home care agencies, at the government website called Home Health Compare. This site provides detailed information about every medicare-certified health agency in the country. Click here to learn more.
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