If you are someone who requires insulin, one of the most important things you can do to stay safe is to have an emergency plan in case you become ill and need to be hospitalized. In preparing for such an emergency, it's important to take into consideration that you may be too ill to speak for yourself at this time. Therefore, you should always designate another individual who can assist in this process, as needed.
If you are hospitalized or admitted for any emergent situation, it will be very important for you to tell your doctor and nurse the type of insulin you take, what dose, and how you are taking insulin. You should carry an updated list of all medications you take at all times. Ideally, it is safest to bring your medications and insulin delivery system into the hospital to prevent any misunderstandings.
It will also be helpful to inform the health care team of your recent blood sugar readings. However, keep in mind that your usual insulin requirement may change with a possible illness or emergent care. Be ready for potential changes in your insulin regimen that your doctor may decide are necessary given your condition.
During your hospitalization or for emergency care, you (or whomever you have designated) will need to pay close attention to your care. Here are some additional tips to avoid errors with your insulin during hospitalization:
• Be sure the nurse confirms your identity with two identifiers before any insulin injection. For example, calling you by your first name and checking your arm band. Never accept an insulin injection without the nurse checking your identification band or scanning it if the hospital uses bar coding. Your identification band must always be legible.
• Have the nurse confirm the type and dose of insulin prior to the injection. Also, request to visualize the syringe to confirm the number of units in the syringe.
• Keep accurate documentation of your blood sugar results. This can serve as a double check in the event a nurse either brings you insulin you did not need or forgets to administer insulin you did need. Keeping documentation of your blood sugar results can also protect you from getting your roommate's dose instead of yours.
• If the hospital is using an insulin pen, be sure a label is affixed to the pen with only your name. Insulin pens must never be used for more than one patient. Ask the nurse about this.
• Keep in mind that some hospitals allow and even encourage patients who are experienced in using insulin at home to self-administer their own insulin while hospitalized. If you are comfortable doing this, it is a good opportunity for you to maintain control of your own insulin and ensure you are receiving your insulin in a timely manner.
• If you have special equipment you use to take your insulin, such as a pen or a pump, never assume others will know how to use it. Always try to go over instructions for use with a nurse before surgery or hospitalization. Teach a family member or friend how to use the equipment in case you are too sick or unable to explain it.
• During hospitalizations, there may be procedures where you are required not to eat anything. If this occurs, your insulin will likely need to be adjusted or held. Unfortunately, there have been instances when nursing staff have continued insulin injections in error, despite a patient not eating.