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During the years I cared for my mother, I was quick to call her primary care provider for any and every health-related question. The thought of depending on my own judgment and possibly making a mistake made me nervous; I feared I could possibly cause her harm. Whenever she had a stomach bug, I'd reach out to her doctor to ask if I should bring her to his office. Whenever she fell, I'd ask him whether I should take her to the ER for an X-ray. His quick and direct responses were a comfort.
But we are soon entering a (hopefully short) period when the health care providers caregivers rely on will not be so readily available. As we keep reading in the news or seeing online, they are gearing up to throw nearly all their resources and energies into a fight against a potentially deadly viral menace. Their offices and ERs are likely to be filled with patients with COVID-19 and their family members. For these PCPs and other providers, stomach bugs and minor falls may not rise to the level of warranting attention.
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That doesn't mean the health care system is turning its back on caregivers or any non-COVID-19 medical concerns. But you may have already received a notice from your health care provider that all care will now be triaged — that is, strictly prioritized — by illness severity. Providers may insist on using other means and perhaps other members of their staffs to provide caregivers and others with reassurance. They may also encourage caregivers to handle more of the health care questions on their own — and rely on their own expertise and good judgment.
Will that further burden caregivers who are already feeling more isolated and unsupported during this crisis? Quite likely. But it also presents an opportunity for caregivers to step up and do more — with appropriate caution and direction. Here are some ideas for how caregivers can successfully manage these new responsibilities: