Working with your beloved senior's health professionals
How to build good relationships with healthcare providers
By Lisa M. Petsche
As you age, and especially if you are caring for someone with a chronic illness, you will likely come in contact with a variety of healthcare providers. These may include doctors, nurses and allied professionals such as physical, occupational and speech therapists, whom you will meet in various settings: home, clinic, hospital and perhaps even long-term care.
Healthcare today is viewed as a partnership between patient and provider, with both parties responsible for ensuring constructive relationships. Patients and caregivers are taking a more active role than ever.
The following are some ways you can do your part to enhance interactions with healthcare professionals.
Prepare questions in advance of phone conversations and meetings, and prioritize them.
If you or your loved one has a hearing or vision impairment, let the professional know at the outset of the conversation.
Share information that will help the professional better understand and assist you or your loved one: medical history, relevant social history, lifestyle, abilities and limitations, temperament, likes and dislikes.
Educate yourself about your or your loved one’s health condition, to facilitate communication with professionals. Don’t try to be an expert, though.
Educate yourself about the roles of involved professionals, and ask about their goals and plans for care.
Ensure you are dealing with the right person by briefly stating the nature of any questions or concerns. If they can’t help you, ask them to direct you to someone who can.
Ensure the person has time to talk if you have numerous questions or a major concern. If not, ask to schedule an appropriate block of time.
When making telephone contact, be prepared to leave a concise voice-mail message if the person is not available. Include the date and time of your call, your name and, if applicable, your loved one’s name and your relationship to him or her, the nature of your call, your daytime phone number, and the best time to reach you. If either of you is hard to reach, you may need to make an appointment to talk by phone or in person.
Write down key information provided during conversations and conferences. Request a layman’s explanation if you don’t understand medical jargon, and ask for clarification when instructions are not clear.
Be forthcoming about what you need and expect—don’t assume others know. Learn to be assertive and proactive in your role as advocate.
Address a concern directly with the relevant care provider. Express it as calmly as possible and in a timely fashion. Provide details and include an example or two; prepare notes if you are easily flustered. Involve the provider’s supervisor only if the issue does not get resolved.
If a situation causes you significant distress, try to compose yourself before addressing your concern—otherwise, it’s difficult to have a constructive discussion.
Depending on the issue and the number of people involved, you may wish to request a meeting.
If you are anxious or angry, have a relative or friend present—preferably someone less emotional—for support and to help you stay focused. Whenever possible, suggest solutions to problems. Be courteous and give others the benefit of the doubt; expect to be treated likewise.
Keep in mind that you and professional care providers are partners, and do your best to work with them.
When you are pleased with the care that professionals have provided, express appreciation; a little goes a long way.
Lisa M. Petsche is a medical social worker and a freelance writer specializing in boomer and senior issues.