Guide to a Safe, Gluten-Free Hospital Stay
Published April, 2022
Full version of this article is in the print pdf.
Being admitted to the hospital can be a stressful experience, especially if you have an autoimmune disorder like celiac disease. Whether you are there for a day-surgery or for a longer stay, hospital staff should work with you to meet your need for a gluten-free diet.
Make copies of this guide for your family members, partner, or support person, and bring several copies with you when you go to the hospital for your stay. Keep a copy of this guide with your list of current medications and the name and address of all your health care providers.
Here’s a checklist of ways to help ensure a gluten-free hospital stay.
Get it in writing. Request a written physician’s order for a gluten-free diet from your regular physician or GI doctor. Make several copies of it and keep the original in a safe place. Ask your doctor to include the word “allergy” and list “wheat, barley, rye and oats and their derivatives” on the order. This helps kitchen staff at hospitals better address your dietary restrictions. Most will not have medical backgrounds but are trained to accommodate food allergies.
Request an allergy wristband. Any patient admitted to a hospital will be given wristbands for identification but also to call out allergies. You may need to verbally request a wristband that states your need to avoid gluten as an “allergy” to visually alert hospital staff.
Request a notation on your medical chart. Ask hospital staff to add a prominent note on your chart that reads:
“Celiac Disease: All foods and medications must be verified gluten-free”
If you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you could ask for the following note on your chart:
“Medical requirement that all foods and medications be verified gluten-free.”
These notes to hospital personnel can also be written or posted on your hospital room door and wall.
Call in advance. If you are planning an admission, make an appointment to speak with someone in each department listed here, as applicable, (pre-op, surgery, medical/surgery, pharmacy, nutrition services-dietitian, rehabilitation, etc.) prior to your admission.
Inform the nurses. You’ll most likely see the nursing staff more often than the doctors. Making nurses aware of your dietary restrictions helps get the message across to other hospital personnel. If you have time in advance of your hospital stay, give a copy of this guide to the nurse manager for the area of the hospital where you will be staying. Also give a copy to the pre-admission nurse to make certain that a copy is placed on the front of your chart or documented in your computerized chart. Request that it be seen easily by everyone accessing your chart.
Ask about bringing food from home. Find out if you can bring your own gluten-free food and if there is a safe, appropriate place to store it. You might be able to request a small fridge for your room or have access to a shared refrigerator on the floor. If so, mark your food with your full name and hospital room number. Even if you cannot bring your own food, ask about your medication and supplements. If bringing your own is not allowed, request that each one provided to you is checked and verified to be free of gluten.
Bring some basics from home, if possible. If you are allowed to bring some food from home, gluten-free crackers, energy bars, condiments, and a box of cereal are easy to store in hospital rooms. A portable cooler or refrigerator that works on a car battery or small electrical outlet attachment can keep some items fresh and safe to eat. Mark all your food with your full name and room number.
Check the menu in advance. For a planned hospital visit, ask about available gluten-free food options. Is there a gluten-free menu? How does meal ordering work? Ask about the procedures in place in the hospital kitchen to prevent cross-contact of gluten-free foods with crumbs or particles from gluten-containing items.
Ask for the hospital dietitian. If you have a planned hospital stay, identify the right person at the hospital who can verify which foods they serve are gluten-free and how they are prepared in the kitchen. Find out who is responsible for approving the “gluten-free” foods. Make a list for yourself as a reminder of which foods to request during your stay.
If this is an emergency visit, as soon as you are settled, contact the hospital Registered Dietitian. If you are too ill to do this, have a family member or caregiver who understands your gluten-free diet do this. Not all dietary staff members are familiar with what a gluten-free diet entails (Diet Technicians, Nutrition Assistants, Meal Assistants, etc.), so make sure you speak directly with the head dietitian.
Share this information with anyone who is providing you with care while you are at the hospital to ensure that the least of your worries is if you can remain safely gluten-free while you’re there.
The information on this website is for educational purposes only. Consult your healthcare team when considering this information.
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