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How to Talk Effectively With Health Care Providers

Tips for caregivers to communicate effectively with health professionals

Article Highlights

  • Ask the right questions
  • Respect your loved ones
  • Use professionals to educate yourself

Communication difficulties between health care providers and older patients happen every day. As a caregiver, playing an active role in maintaining your loved one's health is essential. This means communicating effectively with doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals. Good communication boils down to three facts:


See also: Questions to Ask the Doctor.


  • 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»

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