Communicating with doctors and managing medical care have been among the most stressful aspects of caring for my loved ones — but also among the most rewarding.
I know I've had a positive impact on the quality of care my parents and my sister have received. Still, managing often complicated, confusing treatments can be overwhelming, and no one is perfect at it. Even doctors have told me they struggle when it's their turn to take on this role.
All we can do is make, or help our loved ones make, the best decisions we can with the most thorough information available. That's why communication is crucial. Many patients are adrift in the sea of health care, with no one to advocate for them. Here are some tips for communicating with your loved ones’ health care team.
Get legal authority to coordinate care
Make sure your loved ones have advance directives in place. A power of attorney (POA) for health care gives you or someone else on the caregiving team the legal right to talk with practitioners, manage your family member's health care and make decisions if the person is unable to do so.
In addition, most hospitals and doctors have patients sign a Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) release form, which indicates who is authorized to receive a patient's medical information. This will help even if you don't have POA.
In the absence of these documents, the health care team may still talk with you about medical matters if it's clear that you are the caregiver or next of kin, but it's at their discretion.
Be prepared for appointments
If you make their job easier and faster, medical professionals will be much more responsive to you. For example:
• Before seeing a practitioner for the first time, download new-patient forms from the office's website and complete them.
• Do your research. Bring your notes, and prepare written questions in a format that will allow you to quickly jot down responses.
• Bring a medical history, medication lists, test results, notes on symptoms and health records.
• If you are seeing a specialist, make sure the office has notes from the referring doctor. Practitioners in the same health care system may be able to share these records electronically; alternatively, you may be able to upload them to a doctor's online patient portal.
• If you've read about a new treatment you think might help your loved one, bring the articles and share them with the doctor.
• Ensure that your family member is ready for appointments, and allow plenty of time to get to them, including time to use the restroom and a buffer for the unexpected.