Extended visiting hours for patients a change whose time has come

The presence of a family member to bring a glass of water or help the patient sit up makes a huge difference.

The Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI) has a mission. They want hospitals all across Canada to allow patients to have visitors for extended hours. Why? They claim that it improves patient care.

If any of you have been in the position of having a loved one in the hospital you know how right they are — especially in our current situation where there have been significant reductions in the number of staff available to take care of patients on the wards, the presence of a family member to bring a glass of water or help the patient sit up makes a huge difference. Studies have shown that not only is patient care improved, but mistakes are less likely to happen, patients are less likely to fall.

What you might not have expected is the fact that patients are also less likely to have to return to the hospital after discharge. Involving the family in their care means that the transition to being at home is less likely to run into problems because the family has already some experience with what to do and what to expect. Work has shown that noise and infection rates are not an issue.

So why haven’t more hospitals signed on? You’ll have to ask them but if you want more information to support you when you make the plea to the hospital to extend its visiting hours, please visit the CFHI website at www.cfhi-fcass.ca/Home.aspx

Chocolate for your cough?

Coughing is supposed to clear our airways. Normally that’s a useful reflex. After a viral cold or an infection like pertussis (also known as whooping cough), the airways can remain inflamed for quite a while and at that point coughing no longer serves a useful function. What can you do to stop it from keeping you up all night and making you generally miserable?

First, drink enough fluid so that you stay well hydrated — tea, juice, soup, anything you like. Next, keep the humidity in your house around 50 per cent — too dry is irritating; too humid and you may encourage cough-triggering mould and mildew to grow. Prop the head of the bed up to about 45 degrees to reduce post nasal drip triggering a cough. Enjoy a soothing cup of tea with lemon and honey before you go to bed. Many people find honey by itself calms the cough reflex.

If all that isn’t enough, medication can help. Cough caused by irritated airways responds to the same treatment that we use for asthma: inhalers with a medication like salbutamol, which relaxes the muscle around the airways and corticosteroids that reduce airway inflammation. Codeine (pill or liquid) may also work.

A study from 2004 looked at the use of a substance called theobromine to stop cough and it seemed to work. Theobromine is related to caffeine and to theophylline, a medicine that is used for asthma. It’s found in chocolate, among other things, and in this study, 2.5 ounces (about 71 grams) of dark chocolate reduced the cough reflex.

So if nothing else is helping your cough you might want to try this remedy. Even if it isn’t 100 per cent effective, what a great excuse to enjoy some chocolate when you aren’t feeling well.

Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Surgery, McGill Medical School and an Attending Physician, Emergency Department, McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.

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