7 Ways to recover faster after a hospital stay

Taking the right steps once you (or your loved one) come home can help speed up physical and mental recovery. Here are a few ways to recover faster after a hospital stay.

You did it! Making it through surgery or treatment and being discharged from the hospital is a big deal. But there are still a few challenges ahead.  

“There’s always the chance that you’ll get readmitted, usually from some sort of complication,” says Michael Hochman, M.D. Dr. Hochman is an internist in Los Angeles. About 14% of recently discharged patients get readmitted to the hospital in any given month. There’s even a name for this: post-hospital syndrome. This higher risk of readmission can last up to 7 weeks after a hospital stay. 

There are a few reasons for these return trips. Often, your body has been weakened by your illness, says Dr. Hochman. Or you could pick up an infection in the hospital. They sometimes don’t show up until a few days later when you’re back home.  

“There are also changes that occur in the hospital that can affect your health. Especially if you’re an older adult,” adds Dr. Hochman. “You may have become weaker because you stayed in bed a lot, so you’ve lost muscle strength.”  

The good news: In addition to preparing for your hospital stay, there are steps you can take to prevent going back to the hospital. Here are 7 ways to help recover faster after a hospital stay, so that you can get back to doing the things you love.

Stay in touch with your providers

Even before you leave the hospital, make sure that you’ve booked follow-up appointments. You might need to see your primary care doctor and/or any appropriate specialists, says Dr. Hochman. Did your care team share discharge instructions before you left? Make sure that you follow them in the meantime.

Review your medication list

You may have been put on new medications while you were in the hospital. It’s important to review all your medications with your providers before you are discharged, says Dr. Hochman. Here are some questions you might want to ask. 

  • Why were changes made to my drug list?  
  • How often do I need to take each drug?  
  • What are the correct doses? 

Understanding the right way to take your medications can help prevent mistakes and lower the chances of hospital readmission.  

Organize your medications

People who don’t take their medications as directed are about 2.5 times more likely to be readmitted to the hospital compared to people who do. Here are a few ways to stay on top of your treatment schedule. 

  • Set automatic reminders, says Dr. Hochman. That way you don’t have to remember on your own. Smartphone apps like Wellframe have built-in reminder tools. Many health plans offer Wellframe as a no-cost benefit to members. 
  • Use a pillbox with sections for each day of the week. Just check with your doctor to make sure it’s okay to remove pills from their packaging.  
  • Take your meds at the same time each day. If possible, connect them to another habit you already have in place. You might add them to your morning coffee or bedtime routine.

Stick to a sleep routine

Rest is important to help you recover, says Dr. Hochman. But that doesn’t mean you should nap all day. “A regular wakeup [time] and bedtime is important. It helps to regulate your sleep-wake cycle,” says Dr. Hochman. This itself has been shown to help you recover faster. 

Having trouble nodding off at night? Try to spend some time in natural sunlight during the day. It’s been shown to help improve sleep and boost your mood. 

Keep moving

When you’re not feeling great it can be tempting to lie in bed or on the couch all day. But lack of movement can lead to health risks, says Dr. Hochman. That can include: 

  • Muscle loss. 
  • Weakness.  
  • Blood clots. 
  • Reduced blood flow.  

Ask your doctor what exercises you can safely do. Even just getting in and out of bed regularly can help. Your provider may also suggest physical therapy. It can help you heal and rebuild strength. 

Keep your mind active

Many people have confusion and mental decline when they are in the hospital. But there are things you can do to help your mind recover faster after a hospital stay, says Dr. Hochman. For one, try not to zone out in front of the TV. Instead, read a book or do a crossword puzzle.  

It’s also important to ask friends and family to visit. “Just by talking to you, they help to keep your mind active,” says Dr. Hochman. They’re also an extra set of eyes and ears, to make sure that you’re doing okay at home. 

Be aware of warning signs

Before you leave the hospital, talk to your care team about any symptoms that might point to a problem like a blood clot or infection. And ask what to do if those symptoms pop up. Some signs of common hospital complications include: 

  • Chills. 
  • Fast heartbeat. 
  • Shortness of breath. 
  • Rapid weight gain. 
  • Cramps. 
  • No appetite. 
  • Blood in your urine. 

Not sure if a symptom is serious? Reach out to your care team. It’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your well-being. If you have the Wellframe app, you can use it to message your care team directly. They can tell you if you need to call your doctor right away, or even head to the emergency room.  

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