As a caregiver or support person for an older parent, partner, or relative, you may be involved in helping that person with medical appointments, perhaps even helping them manage care from several different health care providers. There are a number of strategies that can help you be an effective, respectful advocate for your loved one. These strategies also help ensure that your family member gets the care she or he needs, which in turn can lower the risk of misdiagnosis or inappropriate treatment. You’ll also be better equipped to make sure that his or her wishes surrounding medical care are respected by both providers and family members.
Start by having a conversation with the person you provide care for. This is a chance to uncover how they feel about having you play a role in their care. Some people will welcome your support. Others may resist receiving help. Some reasons why they may be uncomfortable looping you into their care include wanting to preserve their independence and guard their privacy.
For family members who are resistant to your offer of support, outline the ways having you included in doctor’s appointments can be helpful. For example, you can help them prepare for appointments, take notes during appointments, make follow-up appointments and get prescriptions filled, and help with insurance claims.
How to be an advocate at the doctor’s office
If your loved one is open to you providing support, these strategies can help you be an effective advocate at the doctor’s office:
Complete the forms you need to act as an advocate. Have your family member complete HIPAA release forms for all doctors they see. To protect their privacy, they can limit the types of information that providers can share with you. If they have dementia or are frail and at risk of being hospitalized, discuss choosing a health care power of attorney who can make medical decisions on their behalf if they are unable to.
Build a provider contact list. One important part of helping your family member is coordinating care. Gather the names and contact information for all the providers they see. If the providers have a patient portal where you can make appointments, request prescription refills, ask questions, and request referrals, create an account to help you streamline access to care and information.
Get acquainted with their medical history. Ask your family member what conditions they’re receiving treatment for, what prescription and over-the-counter medications they take, and about their past medical history. If they don’t have the details you need, once the HIPAA release forms have been submitted, you can request their records from their providers or access them through the patient portal.
Alert the provider that you’ll be attending the appointment. Find out if you can be in the exam room during the appointment. Share your health care power of attorney forms with the provider if you’ve taken on that role.
Prepare before the appointment. Talk with your family member and make a list of questions and concerns to share with the provider. Ask what they want to get out of the appointment. Do they have new symptoms they’re concerned about? Are they dealing with medication side effects? It’s also helpful to bring all their medications and supplements or a list of medications that includes who prescribed the medications and what the dosages are. If your family member takes a lot of medications, consider asking for a medication review to determine if they’re all still needed or if there’s a risk of interactions.
Keep the focus on your family member. Have your loved one lead the discussion with the provider if their health and cognitive well-being allow. You can offer supplemental information, share your perspective, and add any information your family member forgets to mention.
Take notes. It’s difficult for most people to recall what was said during a doctor’s appointment, and it can be even more so for older family members, especially if they have issues with memory or hearing. Track the answers to any questions asked during the appointment. Note test results, new or discontinued medications, and any needed follow-up appointments, tests, or referrals to specialists. If the doctor prescribes a new medication, ask what it’s for, how long it should be taken, what side effects you should look for, and if it could interact with other medications. If there’s a new or updated diagnosis, ask for information about the diagnosis and what the next steps are. And if there’s anything you or your loved one don’t understand, ask for clarification.
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