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Who’s Who on the Health Care Team

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The members of the health care team vary with the setting. Getting to know the “who’s who” on the health care team can be a daunting task.

Care of older adults is complicated by the interaction of aging processes and disease. Good health care is a complex process involving many different health care providers. Your aging parents often need the support of several health professionals.

Seniors are likely to need health care in a variety of settings: doctor’s offices, clinics, and the hospital. If your parent is hospitalized, you and your parents will interact with many different professionals, each with a unique and specialized role.

In the community, you and your family will most likely meet home care or community-care nurses. You might also meet other professionals such as social workers, physiotherapists, or occupational therapists.

The Interdisciplinary Team

Usually an interdisciplinary teamis involved, with each member playing a specific role.  The term “interdisciplinary” refers to the composition of the team. Many different disciplines come together to assess, diagnose, and treat the common health problems that occur for older adults.

It can be helpful to you and your parents to become familiar with the various categories of workers in health care. Here is a brief description of the health care team members you are most likely to encounter

Audiologist

An audiologist is trained to diagnose, manage and/or treat hearing and balance problems. Audiologists conduct hearing tests and fit hearing aids.

Caregiver

A caregiver provides personal and supportive care. The term often refers to a family member or friend. In health care settings, the caregiver may be known as a care attendant, personal care worker or personal health care worker. The education of this category of worker is not regulated. [See also: Home Health Aide]

Case Manager

A case manager is a professional (often a registered nurse or social worker) who oversees the assessment, planning, and care of or services to an individual. Case managers work in hospitals and community programs. Some geriatric case managers can be hired privately on a fee-for-service basis.

Companion

A companion provides housekeeping, meal preparation, shopping, and transportation as well as social support to an individual. Usually, this person works in the client’s home.  Some care facilities allow the family to hire private companions to provide support, but not personal care. A companion focuses mainly on instrumental activities of daily living. If you want to know more about this term, read Medical Jargon.

Discharge Planner

A discharge planner is an individual (usually a social worker or registered nurse) who works in a hospital, and assists patients to connect to healthcare services in the community following a hospital stay.

Family Therapist

A family therapist is a mental health professional with specialized education in working with families, couples, and individuals. They receive their credentials from accredited programs and are members of the Registry of Marriage and Family Therapists in Canada. They help families who are facing immediate crisis or chronic mental health problems.

Geriatrics

Geriatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with the health and diseases of older adults.

Geriatrician

A geriatrician is a physician with specialized training or experience in caring for the special health needs of people over the age of 65. 

Gerontology

Gerontology is the study of aging.

Gerontological Nurse

A gerontological nurse is a registered nurse with specialized knowledge and education in aging. These nurses work with older adults and their families in both hospital and community settings. 

Home Care Coordinator (Community Care Coordinator)

A home or community care coordinator is a registered nurse, social worker, or physiotherapist who assesses and oversees the home care services that are provided to a client. The coordinator assigns the care to the appropriate member of the team.

Home Health Aide

A home health aide provides personal care: bathing, dressing, grooming, and assistance with eating. These aides may also help an elderly individual to walk with assistance or supervision. Some may assist with rehabilitation, by helping with range of motion exercises and other exercise programs under the direction of a physiotherapist.

Other names for them are “personal support worker” or “personal care aide.” The education of these workers is not standardized.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)

A licensed practical nurse (also known as registered practical nurse) assesses a patient’s condition, administers medications, and performs many nursing procedures. An LPN works under the direction of a registered nurse or physician.

Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with advanced education who is qualified to treat certain medical conditions.  The nurse practitioner can assess, order diagnostic tests, diagnose and prescribe treatments.  The Gerontological or Geriatric Nurse Practitioner(GNP) has specialized education to work with older patients.  

Occupational Therapist

An occupational therapist is a professional trained to work with persons with permanent or temporary limitations in physical or mental functioning (including individuals in all age groups).
The aim of occupational therapy is to help the client to perform activities of daily living (ADL) and to develop the skills to live independent and productive lives.

Pharmacist

A pharmacist is trained in the art and science of pharmacy. A pharmacist dispenses a medication based on the prescription from the physician. In some jurisdictions, they have the right to prescribe certain medications. Pharmacists play a vital role in helping older individuals to receive safe and effective drug treatment.

Physiotherapist

A physiotherapist is trained in the assessment and treatment of injuries and physical disabilities. (Note: in Canada the term physiotherapist is used; in the U.S., physical therapist is the parallel term.)

Podiatrist

A podiatrist is trained in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the foot, ankle, and lower leg. Podiatrists play an important role in preventing serious complications of diabetes: i.e. foot infections.

Psychologist

A psychologist is a licensed professional who deals with the mind, including the assessment and treatment of problems with behaviour, cognition (thinking), and affect (mood). Psychologists may administer and interpret psychological tests as well as engage in research.

Recreational Therapist

A recreational therapist may also be referred to as a therapeutic recreation specialist. These professionals assess the cognitive abilities and interests of their clients and use a variety of approaches, including music, arts, dance, and structured activities to improve or maintain emotional, mental, and physical well-being. 

Registered Nurse (RN)

A registered nurse assesses a patient’s condition, and makes decisions regarding appropriate nursing care. RNs can respond to complex situations and work with physicians to establish an appropriate treatment plan. They also administer medications and monitor responses.
Promoting healthy living and teaching individuals how to manage their disease is part of their role. RNs work in all healthcare settings, including the community.

Social Worker

A social worker is a registered professional who promotes the welfare of an individual or a whole community. Services provided may include counseling, rehabilitation, support groups, referral to appropriate resources, or advocacy. 

Now that you know the titles of the members of the healthcare team, you might be interested in reading the article
Tips for Interacting with Health Professionals

Curious about the role of a nurse practitioner? Read Day in the life of a Geriatric Nurse Practitioner.

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