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Tips for Interacting with the Health Care Team

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You and your parents will want to establish a good relationship with health professionals.  We offer some tips for interacting with the health care team to help you to achieve this goal.

Care of older adults can be complex and often relies on an interdisciplinary team: that is, many members of the health care team can be involved.

Of course, the level of your involvement will depend on the amount of care/support that your parent requires from you.  Are you involved by invitation or by legal obligation; for example, you are appointed the guardian or have power of attorney?   If so, you may find yourself in the new role of advocate or spokesperson. It is best if one family member speaks for your parents. This person will contact the care team and keep the rest of the family informed.

Know who is providing care

In another article, we explain the titles and roles of the various members of the health care team. Here, we are suggesting that you make a list — with all contact information — of everyone who is involved.  Get in the habit of carrying a notebook– you’ll need it. 

The health care system is large and complex.  You will meet many providers and they might not always communicate with each other. You, and your parent, may have to tell your story over and over. This takes time and energy.  

How to interact with the physician

Because of doctor-patient confidentiality, you may encounter resistance if you try to talk to the doctor, without your parent present.  Think about this–what if the roles were reversed and your parent called yourdoctor? 

It is best, if possible, to talk to your parent first and reach agreement on your role. 

If you live nearby, getting to know your parent’s doctor can be very helpful. Ask if you can accompany when he/she has an appointment. There are several valid reasons for this request. You can:

  • provide your personal contact information to the office.
  • offer what is referred to as “collateral information.” You can inform the doctor about your observations. This might assist with accurate diagnosis. For example, you might notice that your mom sometimes appears off balance when she moves suddenly.  The doctor may review your mom’s medications to see if any might be contributing to this problem.
  • write down a list of questions that you and your parent want to have answered. Record the answers in a notebook. In this way, you provide a second “set of ears” to hear what the doctor says and review the information after the visit.
  • ask the doctor what you can do to help your parent. For example, if your mom is on a salt-restricted diet for treatment of heart failure, the doctor may have helpful advice, or refer you to a registered dietician.
How to share private concerns with the physician

Here are a few suggestions gathered from individuals who were providing care to one or both parents.

Sometimes, you have reasons to share your concerns privately. If you have important information, call or make an appointment to share your worries. You can also write a letter outlining your observations. 

There are some risks because the physician is not likely to keep the appointment “secret” from your parent.  You could jeopardize the relationship between yourself and your mom/dad.  

You will likely find that there is not enough time to address all the concerns in one visit. Sometimes you need to use polite persistence in order to gather information and receive services for your parent. You might need to schedule several visits.If you live some distance away, during a visit to your parents, try to schedule an appointment to meet the doctor, the home or community 

Tips for a polite conversation with all healthy care providers
  1. Always ask for and use a professional’s name during the conversation.
  2. Acknowledge their expertise.
  3. Express your emotional state in a way that doesn’t threaten them (e.g., I’m feeling really lost here and I hope you can help me).
  4. Give feedback during the visit (e.g., this is really helpful, thank you for explaining).
  5. Ask for clarification of what you have just heard to avoid misunderstandings.
  6. Make it easy for them to get back to you if they must (email, voice mail, call back at certain time).
  7. Try to bring humor into the situation, particularly if you can make a joke at your own expense.
  8. Ask what you can do to help in this situation. Be clear about what you can and cannot do.
  9. Thank them for their assistance during, and at the end of the conversation.
Keep in touch with health care providers

Keeping track of health care providers involved in care and services for your parents can be a daunting task. Keep in touch with the physician. The doctor is responsible for the medical diagnosis and often knows the overall plan.

  • In the hospital, keep in touch with the discharge planner. This individual communicates with members of the team to determine the plan for discharge, including the services that will be needed at home.
  • In the community, keep in touch with the case manager, sometimes known as the community or home care coordinator.
  • Start a notebook and keep the names and phone numbers of all the professionals that are involved. Ask them to explain their roles.
  • Negotiate specific times for telephone calls to the health professional. Ask if e-mail correspondence is possible.
Take Action
  • Professional jargon can interfere with communication. Try to learn the most common terms and do not be reluctant to ask for explanations. (Read our article: Say That Again Please: Medical Jargon, found on the website.)
  • Ask health care professionals to explain their roles. You and your parent want to know who is most likely to help you solve specific problems. Read our article, Who’s Who on the Health Care Team.
  • Start a notebook that helps you to keep track of medical information. 
  • Use our Just-in-time Planning Guide.
  • Be assertive in asking for information. Ask your parents to give consent to have the health care providers share information with you.
  • If you are concerned about the care or treatment, ask for consultations with specialists in geriatrics or gerontology.

This article has provided several tips for interacting with the health care team. When you develop a good relationship with health professionals, your role in advocating for your parents will be much more effective.

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For more information on Power of Attorney and Health Care Directives, visit Law Depot.

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