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How to Talk Effectively With Health Care Providers

Tips for caregivers to communicate effectively with health professionals

  • Asking the right questions will yield the information you and your loved one need in order to make decisions.
  • Providing health professionals with the information they need is necessary for them to make informed judgments.
  • Demanding quality care for your loved one is a must.

Whether you're communicating on your loved one's behalf or helping her communicate better on her own, here's how to ensure that she receives the best possible care.

Don't Overstep Boundaries

Your loved one may not want to share her entire health history with you. Respect her wishes to keep certain information private, and ask that her health care providers do the same.

If your loved one would like you to be involved in her medical care, ask her to put in writing that she wants you to receive all information related to her condition. Otherwise, her health care providers might not keep you in the loop.

If you communicate directly with your loved one's health care providers, keep your loved one involved in the conversations as much as possible. An older patient may feel invisible at a medical visit if her doctor speaks exclusively to her caregiver.

Ask Questions and Get Educated

Before each health-related appointment, write down any questions you have. Then make sure that the doctor addresses your concerns. See our checklist for suggested questions.

Ask the doctor to clarify anything you don't understand. And remember that other health professionals may be able to answer your questions, too. For instance, nurses are trained in patient education and counseling. They can explain a diagnosis and teach a patient how to follow a treatment plan. Pharmacists are the drug experts. They can answer questions about how to take medicine properly, and some may offer broader counseling and assistance. Dietitians can offer meal-planning tips, and social workers can help you navigate the medical care and social service systems.

Between doctor visits, you might research an illness or condition in books and journals or on the Internet. Be sure to get information from reputable sources, and share what you learn with your loved one's health care providers.

Next: Get a second opinion»

Provide Detailed Information

A doctor needs accurate and detailed information about a patient to make proper diagnoses and prescribe safe and effective treatments. Because many older people see more than one physician, their medical records don't always contain all the facts a doctor needs.

Each doctor should know all about the patient's health, particularly recent hospitalizations. Provide details on drug allergies, chronic illnesses, relevant test results and medicines taken regularly, including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements. If you have trouble remembering these details, a written health history can refresh your memory.

Also tell the doctor if your loved one drinks alcohol, smokes or has trouble sleeping or driving. Mention previous side effects from medications or barriers to following a treatment plan, such as forgetting to take medicines or worrying about money.

Get a Second Opinion

Health professionals hold the medical expertise you need, but the service, attention and quality of care required don't always come automatically. Consider changing doctors if the current one doesn't listen or explain things well.

If the doctor proposes a treatment, ask why. Keep asking if you're not satisfied with the answers. Feel free to get a second opinion about a diagnosis or suggested treatment.

Be a Team Player

Just as you and your loved one deserve respect, so do the health professionals with whom you interact. No matter how frustrating a situation becomes, you're more likely to get what your loved one needs if you remain constructive, polite and involved.

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