Preparing for hospital

Knowing what to expect before going to hospital can make it an easier experience for you and your family/whānau.

Key points

  1. You may need to go to hospital for several reasons, eg, an accident, a clinic appointment or a planned admission for an elective surgery.
  2. Regardless of the reason, it's a good idea to have some things prepared beforehand.
  3. When you get there, don't be afraid to let the hospital staff know about specific needs you may have. 
  4. Staff will do their best to explain what is happening, but ask any questions if you don't understand.  
  5. You may need to make a lot of decisions while in hospital but you can always have someone you trust with you to help with that. 

Why might I go to hospital?

There are different reasons you may need to go to hospital. These include if you have:

  • an accident or medical emergency
  • a planned admission, eg, for an elective surgery
  • an appointment with a specialist in the clinic.

What can I prepare before going to hospital?

You can have some things prepared in advance to make it easier even if you get sick suddenly and need to go to hospital.

  • Your health passport – this has all your medical information written in it, including your next of kin details, the medicines you are taking, any allergies you may have, any support you will need while in hospital and your enduring power of attorney (EPOA) if you have one.
  • life tube – this is available from your local Age Concern branch. It is a small plastic cylinder that has a completed medical information sheet inside it in case you can't communicate. You keep it in your fridge and have a red sticker on the outside of the fridge. In the event of an emergency, police, fire or ambulance services are trained to look for life tubes.

If you have a planned admission and will be staying in the hospital, you will need to pack a bag. Make sure you have everything you need. 

Examples of items you may want to take with you
  • nightwear, pyjamas
  • day clothes
  • underwear
  • slippers
  • a small hand towel
  • toiletries (toothbrush, hairbrush, razor)
  • sanitary products, pads or incontinence products if you need to use these
  • mobile phone
  • books or magazines
  • eye glasses or contact lenses
  • mobile phone, charger and phone numbers of family/whānau members and friends
  • any equipment you need to help you move (such as a walking stick) or communicate (such as a hearing aid)
  • address book with important numbers
  • small amount of money (no more than $20)
  • something to fill in your time, such as a book or magazine. 

You should leave valuable items such as passports, jewellery and large amounts of money at home. 

If your operation or procedure is a day surgery, where you will be able to go home on the same day, you won't need to pack an overnight bag.

What are the different types of hospital visits?

Hospital admission

Admission means going into hospital. You may be admitted into the hospital for a day, overnight or even longer. When you are admitted to the hospital, you will receive inpatient care.

If you are having a planned admission, your GP or specialist doctor will write a referral letter to the hospital. You will then be contacted by the hospital to plan a date for you to be admitted. The admissions team will organise your stay in the hospital.

Read more about what will happen in hospital admissions

Day clinics and specialist services

These are called outpatient clinics or services and may happen before or after your hospital admission or surgery. Usually, you will be referred by your GP or staff in the hospital, such as doctors in the emergency department. You will then be contacted by the clinic to schedule an appointment for you to go to the clinic.

Sometimes, you may need to travel to another hospital for a particular service or clinic as not all hospitals provide the full range of specialist clinics. 

Surgery or operation

Surgery is also called an operation. You will need to attend a pre-operative assessment clinic if you are having a planned or elective surgery. You'll be asked questions about your health, medical history and home circumstances. Sometimes some tests, such as blood tests, may be carried out.

Your doctor or anaesthetist will talk to you about anaesthetic options. A nurse will also explain what will happen on the day of your surgery, including when to stop eating and drinking and the time you need to come to the hospital.


This is a chance to find out as much as you can about what's involved in your surgery. It's a good idea to take along your partner or a support person to your appointments, so they know what is happening and can support you. Ask questions about what to expect during or after your surgery. 

Read more tips for preparing for surgery

On the day of your surgery:

  • come to the hospital at the time given to you at the preoperative assessment clinic
  • follow the instructions given to you at your pre-operative assessment clinic, such as not to eat or drink from a set time
  • you may be asked to change into a hospital gown and remove objects such as glasses, contact lenses, hearing aids or dentures
  • a needle or cannula will be inserted to your arm while you are still awake to give you fluids and medicines
  • one of the hospital staff will bring you to the operating room when it is time for your operation. 

After your operation, you will be transferred to the recovery area, where you will be monitored closely to make sure you are recovering well. 

Emergency department and unplanned admissions

If you become seriously unwell or have an accident, you will most likely enter the hospital through the emergency department by an ambulance or be brought in by your family/whānau or friends. Once you arrive in the emergency department, a nurse will see and triage you (work out how urgently you need to be seen by a doctor).

If you are critically ill or injured, you may need to see a doctor first, instead of a nurse. Sometimes you may have to wait to see a doctor or a nurse, depending on how unwell you are and how busy the emergency department is. 

When you are in the emergency department, you may:

  • be attached to different machines to monitor your vital signs
  • be seen by different healthcare professionals relevant to your care
  • need to have multiple blood tests or scans for the diagnosis of your condition. 

Once a doctor has seen you, there are 3 possible outcomes. These include:

  • treating and discharging you so that you can leave the hospital
  • admitting you to a ward for further treatment and monitoring – sometimes you may be transferred to a different place in the hospital to wait for a bed in the ward
  • sending you to the outpatient clinic for further assessments.

Hospital staff will do their best to explain what is happening, so ask any questions you have about your condition.  

What support is available in hospital?

There is support available to meet your needs while you are in the hospital. This includes:

  • access to a New Zealand Sign Language interpreter if you are Deaf or have impaired hearing
  • access to an interpreter if English is not your first language – sometimes it's hard to get one at short notice, so let hospital staff know you need one as soon as you get to hospital
  • mobility and wheelchair transport to help you move around the hospital
  • any dietary (food) requirements
  • asking for a written copy of the discussion and decisions made 
  • asking for female health specialists and support staff for your care
  • social support to organise transport to get to your clinic, GP appointments or leaving hospital 
  • support when you go home – you can ask to be referred to a social worker to arrange a needs assessment for you. 

When can I leave hospital?

Leaving hospital and the discharge process varies with each person. Some people leave hospital after a short stay, while others may have a longer stay. Some people are independent and may not need much support once they leave hospital, but others may need extra care and support. Hospital staff will explain and arrange what needs to happen after you leave the hospital. 

Read more about preparing to leave hospital

Learn more

Going to hospital? Health and Disability Commissioner, NZ 
Hospital and specialist services Ministry of Health, NZ 
Preparing for hospital Better Health Channel, Australia 

References

  1. Going to hospital? Health and Disability Commissioner, NZ, 2020
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.