Communicating with Your Parent’s Doctor
Learn more about being involved with your loved one’s healthcare in a compassionate and loving way.
A Balance of Concern and Privacy
The term “continuum of care” refers to a comprehensive health system that offers a wide variety of medical services across different levels and intensities of care. Ideally, a strong continuum of care will guide patients through the healthcare system, ensuring that communication is open between different types of health care providers (including family doctors, nurses, nursing homes, pharmacists and surgeons).
The reality, however, is that not all patients are cooperative when it comes to sharing medical information with caregivers. As A Place for Mom’s Sally Abrahms reports, “there are many parents who are less enthusiastic — downright antagonistic — when their adult child asks to go to appointments or talk to their doctor. ‘Stop butting in, I’m fine!’ they say. They may not be fine, though. They may be missing medication, ‘forgetting’ to report symptoms or conditions, or start to fail in other ways.”
If this situation sounds familiar, then you’ll need to tread carefully to ensure that your parents know you are worried, and simply want to help.
“I encourage the patient to think of themselves as the CEO of the health team,” Dr. Heather Whitson, a geriatrician and researcher at the Duke University Aging Center tells Abrahms.
“As the doctor, I’m a member, and so may be the home health aide or the family or a geriatric care manager. I welcome the input of others. A broader support network is always a good thing.”
Communicating with Your Parent’s Doctor
Assuming your family member or parent allows you to come to doctor’s visits, the second challenge you’ll encounter is how to communicate with the doctor and health care team. Here’s what you need to ask, have and know:
Before Your Visit
- Choose one member of the family who will be the key point of contact with the medical team and will share this information with the rest of the family. Doctors don’t have time to field calls from many family members asking for the same information. Also, ensuring the same person goes to doctor’s appointments will ensure consistency and help improve the continuum of care.
- Fax this list of questions and issues to the doctor before the appointment. This is a great way to give your doctor the heads up about what issues are top of mind.
- This is an extremely helpful approach if you want your parent to bring up a touchy subject (like driving) and they are resistant. If the doctor asks the questions then your parent will be more likely to address the issue. They’re also more likely to listen to the doctor’s advice and opinion than your own.
- If possible, try to choose doctors who are connected to the same hospital or large medical practice — it’s easier for them to share medical records, lab results and information from specialists.
- Let your parent ask the questions (try not to take over the conversation)
- Talk about your concerns and make a list of questions to ask the doctor.
During Your Visit
- Ask about side-effects and the safety of combining medication.
- Ask follow up questions.
- Ask for the doctor to explain terms or concepts you don’t understand.
- Ask for the results of recent medical tests (sometimes doctors only bring up results if there is an abnormality).
- Ask if your doctor is communicating with other members of your parent’s health care team – don’t assume they are. Be prepared to give them the contact name of physiotherapists, pharmacists, specialists and the other people who are involved in caring for your parent.
- Check that your doctor is okay with taking the generic drug whenever possible (generic drugs are usually more affordable than brand names).
- Take notes.
Following Your Visit
- Discuss the information you learned and how your parent feels the visit went. This is a good time to check in about how your parent feels about their doctor — if they don’t like them, or resist their advice then consider finding a second opinion.
For Family Who Live Apart
If you can’t be there, don’t worry. There are a number of different health care professionals you can hire to help ensure your parent is well-taken care of as they navigate the health care system, including:
- Ambulatory escorts
- Geriatric care managers
- Home health aides
- Paid caregivers
- Federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) form: You can get this form at your doctors’ office or a hospital. Your parent will need to sign it to give their health care team permission to share their medical information with you.
- Health care power of attorney: An important document to have in case your parent, spouse or family member becomes unable to make decisions for themselves, including decisions about end of life care.
Ultimately, if your doctor or a member of your loved one’s medical team isn’t forthcoming when it comes to sharing information with other medical professionals, your parent, or with yourself (assuming permission has been granted) then don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion or seek a different doctor.