4.3. NHS Hospitals – How to prepare for your NHS hospital appointment

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4.3. NHS Hospitals – How to prepare for your NHS hospital appointment

Welcome back to Self Care, the health education zone from Health Control.

Let’s begin this week by imagining ourselves in a common scenario: 

You’re heading to an NHS hospital. You’ve been referred by your GP. You’ve been asked to report to the BDU department at 10.30 a.m. for a DXA. The GP did recite what these terms are and mean, but it’s been forgotten amidst the fact that you’re a bit nervous about going to hospital.  

We’ve all been in this situation. We have an NHS hospital appointment ahead of us, but we aren’t exactly sure who we’ll be seeing and what they will do to us. How do we begin to overcome this  feeling of nervous confusion?

A bit of research can help you take more control   

Well, as a good starting point begin with a visit to the hospital’s website. If you type in the name of your NHS hospital into google, it will probably be one of the first items listed in the google search.  Hospitals are usually part of a bigger NHS Hospital Trust, for example Worthing Hospital belongs to Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.  

Once you have found your hospital in google, on the front page usually near the top, you should find a heading like ‘Our Services’/ ‘Departments and Services’/’A to Z of Our Services’. You can then start  to uncover in more detail what the hospital department you are visiting actually does.  

Step by step...

Let’s take the example above. Our appointment card says that the BDU actually stands for the Bone  Density Unit at St. Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey (part of the Ashford and St. Peter’s Hospitals NHS  Foundation Trust). If we google ‘St. Peter’s Hospital Chertsey’ it comes up first but is listed under the  NHS Trust name:

Google search results showing Ashford and St Peters Hospital Trust

So, we click on the blue link and the home page for Ashford and St. Peter’s Hospitals website opens up. We want to find out more about the department we are visiting, so we scan around the page and find this:

An icon for a Services A to Z menu which is a medical briefcase

Great, so we click on this icon and now we are taken to an A-to-Z listing of all the departments in those hospitals. We scroll down and we can find the Bone Density Unit:

Bone Density Unit - Bone density scanning, also called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or bone densitometry, is a non invasive enhanced form of X ray technology that is used to measure bone loss. DXA is today's established gold standard for measuring bone mineral density (BMD) for the diagnosis of Osteoporosis.

Ok, so there is a brief overview of the department. But notice that the title ‘Bone Density Unit’ is written in blue – in the website world this means that it is usually a link to further information. So we go ahead and click on the words ‘Bone Density Unit’. Now it opens up lots more useful information. We get some details about what a DXA is – knowledge is power: 

We have a Bone Density Scanner at both Ashford and St Peter's hospitals. 

What is a Bone Density Scan (DXA)?

Bone density scanning, also called dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or bone densitometry, is a non invasive enhanced form of X ray technology that is used to measure bone loss. DXA is today's established gold standard for measuring bone mineral density (BMD) for the diagnosis of Osteoporosis. The radiation dose from this procedure is minimal (background equivalent).

DXA is most often used to diagnose Osteoporosis, a condition that affects 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over the age of 50. Osteoporosis involves a gradual loss of calcium, as well as structural changes, causing the bones to become thinner, more fragile and more likely to break.

DXA is most often performed on the lower spine, hips and sometimes forearm.

Our scanner at St Peter's also has the ability to perform Lateral Vertebral Deformity Assessment (which enables vertebral fractures to be diagnosed) which is very important in the management of Osteoporosis.

St Peter's also has the facility to carry out whole body scans as requested according to our departmental criteria. 

Documents

Here we can read that the scan is non-invasive (does not cut the skin or enter any of the body  spaces), it uses radiation, but the dose is minimal, that the aim is to test for osteoporosis, that  osteoporosis affects 1 in 3 women over 50 and that loss of calcium may be an issue.  

You will notice that the words at the bottom: ‘A guide to tell the patient how to book an appointment and about the procedure’ is written in blue, meaning that if you click on it, you will find  even more details including  an explanation of how you should prepare for the scan.

Underneath that section, you can also find information about the exact location of the clinic you are  due to visit:

Locations and further details

Ashford Hospital Located on the ground floor of the clinical block in the X ray Department.
St Peter's Hospital Located on Level 2 of the Out patients Department Block leading to the Runnymede Hospital.
Consultants Dr V Prakash (clinical lead) and Dr S Gilani.
DEXA Lead / Reporting Radiographer Mrs Marie Richards

 Weblinks:

Contact telephone number

  • Enquires: 01932 722482
  • We no longer accept referrals by fax
  • Appointments: 01932 723054

Now you can see exactly where you need to go on the day of your appointment. There is also an enquiries phone number if you need any further help and there are some further weblinks to even more information about your procedure.  

The NHS Choices links are well worth clicking. This is information you can trust, created by the NHS to provide detailed education about procedures and diseases. If you are ever looking for further health information, we would always recommend the main NHS website (www.nhs.uk) – it’s from the NHS, it is clear and concise and it tells you what to expect. There are so many other sites out there that can’t be trusted 100% because they provide a view outside of the organisation that will actually be treating you.

Finally, and importantly, you can see the names of the Consultants in charge of the Department and the name of the Radiographer. Many hospital websites will have these names in blue so you can click on them and find out more information about the actual clinicians, some even have photos.  

What do those complicated job titles mean? 

The job titles in a hospital can also be confusing and overly complicated. When I need to remind myself what a medical job title actually means, I refer to the netdoctor website and the ‘A to Z of  NHS Health Professionals,’ which has been written by Dr Roger Henderson a Senior GP - CLICK HEREUsing our example above, I can discover that a Consultant is a ‘Senior Doctor’ and a Radiographer ‘...works in X ray departments to produce and interpret images used in the diagnosis of injury and disease.’

Arming ourselves with trusted information 

So, we have gone from a feeling of uncertainty to now knowing exactly where to go, what will happen when we get there, who runs the department, how to prepare and who to call if we have further questions. The same process should apply for any hospital visit – 15 minutes’ worth of googling can help empower you and help you to attend the appointment in a more prepared mental state. 

There’s so much information online but use a source you can trust: the website of the hospital you are visiting, the links that they share, and the NHS website aligned to your UK country.  

Some final tips to help you prepare for any hospital appointment: 

- Write down a list of questions and things you would like to discuss at your appointment beforehand. 

- Take your questions to the appointment and be confident to take the time to write down the answers. 

- If you are confused by anything, then ask the healthcare professional to explain further. 

- Repeat your understanding back to the Clinician to ensure you understand fully.

- Take a list of your medications to your appointment. 

- Some Health Care Professionals won’t mind you recording the conversation on your phone , so don’t be afraid to ask. The voice recorder application on most mobile phones is simple to use and a mobile savvy person will be able to show you how to use it in just a few minutes. But make sure you always ask before recording anyone. 

Over the last few weeks we have learnt a lot about our NHS, the new NHS Long Term Plan, all about our local GP Surgery, who NHS Community Services are and today we have opened our minds to the world of hospitals and hospital visits. We hope you are finding our information useful. 

Thinking of a going on holiday? 

Next time, we are going to consider how our NHS compares with health care in other countries. We hope to get you thinking about your travels and we’ll share some of our own experiences with health care provision abroad.  

For now, I hope you are beginning to carefully enjoy the world slowly opening up to us all once again. Stay safe and let’s keep appreciating our hard-working health care professionals who make our NHS what it is: 

Best wishes, 

Matt 

Founder of Health Control

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