Good doctor qualities for your aging parent

As we get older, having a good doctor in our corner becomes incredibly important.

And you don’t want just any doctor for your parent.  Smarts, signs of basic compassion and a few other things are essential for the relationship to work.

Good doctor quality #1: Listening skills

Picture it: Your Mom’s doctor’s office. 10am Tuesday.  She reaches into her pocket for her list of three concerning symptoms she plans to mention, if she can get a word in.

And yes, what the doctor knows and can tell with instruments is important.

But so is what your Mom knows. About the symptoms she is experiencing. In her own body.  Enough said.

Good doctor quality #2: Reachability

Think it might be easier to score the latest iPad on the release day then it would be to get your aging parent’s doctor on the phone when you need to?

That’s definitely a problem.

Simply put, stuff happens as you get older.  Your aging parent may wake up feeling dizzy. They may develop a cough that hangs on despite cough syrup and enough hot tea with lemon to drown a camel.

When this is the case your parent is going to need advice over the phone, and if the situation warrants, an urgent appointment.  If you ask me, this one is non-negotiable.

Good doctor quality #3: Thorough checkups

There are basic tests that should be done as part of a standard physical.  These tests are both diagnostic and preventative.

So none of this, “Well, we took blood last year, you’re probably okay,” or, “That scan does look a bit abnormal but it’s probably nothing.”

Unless your aging parent’s doctor can articulate a logical reason to forgo basic testing or prolong a further work-up when one seems warranted, it might be time to move on.

Good doctor quality #4: Explains the big picture

Let’s say your Mom’s blood pressure is high despite taking her medication most of the time.  Think it would be good for her doctor to remind Mom about the importance of taking the medication exactly as directed?

You bet.

But you know what would be even better?

Reviewing why Mom takes blood pressure medication in the first place.  How about a twenty second tutorial on how keeping blood pressure low will reduce her risk of heart attack and stroke?

Look for doctors who help your parents understand the big picture.

Good doctor quality #5: Takes your parent’s insurance

So you know of a doctor who is most certainly “good enough” for your parent? Great!

But before we break out the champagne, answer this one little question for me: Does they take Medicare, Medicaid, or whatever insurance your parent has?

If the answer is no, your aging parent could end up paying through the nose.

So call ahead, have Dad cross his fingers, and if the doctor accepts the right insurance but isn’t accepting new patients, consider waiting until that changes.

Maria Basso Lipani is a social worker who blogs at Geriatric Care Management.

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  • ninguem

    “…..So call ahead, have Dad cross his fingers, and if the doctor accepts the
    right insurance but isn’t accepting new patients, consider waiting
    until that changes……”

    Forget about Dad, you’ll be needing that geriatrics doc by the time that changes.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with your article but would like to add–the importance of a multi-disciplinary team.  As a gerontological NP specializing in very frail seniors both in their own homes & in a primary care clinic I am priviledged to work with a great team including nurses, medical assistants,VNA, home health aides, PT, MSW , a geripsych team as well as MD’s.  It takes a village to provide seniors with the care they deserve.

  • Anonymous

    Yes.. I agree with TManning, and I would like to emphasize aging people need health care providers who are knowledgeable about geriatrics and the differences between ‘adult’ medicine and ‘geriatrics’.

  • Anonymous

    Must also have skills that allow REAL CONVERSATION. Pt’s do not like bad news, and doctors hate giving it. There are times and places when a DNR may seem far off and unnecessary, but one’s parent is not a quilt of diseases, they are a human who may not be able to deal with all situations, and may nearly die if the wrong set of symptoms occur at the same time.  Possibly each would not kill them, several going wrong at the same time might.. So, when to say “enough”. Look the doctor in the eye about end of life care. If the doctor splutters or changes the topic.. do not hire that one.

  • WorkingBoomer

    Bravo!  Excellent list!

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