Caregiver Tip: Communicating with Doctors – LifeCircles PACE
Photo by: Hush Naidoo

Photo by: Hush Naidoo

If you are currently a caregiver of a family member, you might be feeling a little stressed, or in some cases, a lot stressed. LifeCircles PACE wants to help you and your loved ones celebrate National Family Caregivers Month. Throughout the month of November LifeCircles will highlight some simple tips to help caregivers in their important work.

Communicating with doctors as a caregiver can be challenging. At LifeCircles PACE our entire team prides itself on good communication with individuals and their care partners. Our participants and their loved ones often comment about how nice it is to get a return call directly from a LifeCircles doctor that knows so much about them/their loved one.

Not everyone gets to enjoy all the benefits that an all-inclusive program like PACE provides.  These individuals may feel rushed or hurried through their appointments, and at times may feel like their concerns aren’t being heard by their medical team. In fact, they may not feel like their doctors, therapists, nurses and other providers are much of a team at all, because it seems like they don’t know what the other one is doing. Do not despair, as a caregiver there are ways to improve communication with your loved ones medical provider.

If you are caregiving for someone here are some tips to help communicate with doctors or other medical professionals:

  • Ask direct and specific questions to the medical professional: A general question will be met with a general answer. “How is mom doing?” might be answered with “Overall your mom is doing well for her age”. This really isn’t that helpful. Instead ask about specifics – “I’ve noticed that Mom has been more constipated lately, could this be because of the new medicine she started?”
  • If you don’t understand, say so: Ask the professional to rephrase their response. The healthcare professional you are meeting with went to school for a very long time, and will be able to share the information they are giving you in multiple ways. Don’t feel silly, the professional is there to help you, and wants to make sure you understand their instructions, prescriptions or advice. If you leave the appointment feeling confused, call the office back for more information.
  • Don’t minimize symptoms or concerns: If you are concerned because your dad has been coughing more and more at night, and hasn’t been getting much rest, don’t say “He has a little cough at night”, or “he is sleeping ok”. Instead say, “I am concerned that he isn’t getting much sleep because his cough at night keeps getting worse”. You are the eyes and ears for your loved one. Medical professionals are trained to listen for signs and symptoms – if you make it sound like they aren’t a big deal, your doctor may treat them like they aren’t a big deal.
  • Write down your questions before your appointment: The day of a medical appointment for a frail senior can sometimes feel like a day at the circus. Assume there will be difficulties, and that you might forget important things that have been on your mind. Take your list into the appointment and when the Doctor or nurse asks, “do you have any questions”, get out your list.
    • Here is a checklist you can use to prepare for your visit from the Caregiver Action Network.
  • Encourage your loved one to speak for themselves: Sometimes the way someone expresses their concern can be just the right cue for the Doctor or other medical professional to recognize an issue. It is also helpful to your loved one to feel like they have a voice, and that others in the room aren’t talking around them. After all, this visit is about them.
  • Develop a relationship with your loved one’s medical team: Have you ever heard the expression, “you catch more flies with honey” ? The more you get to know the people that care for and treat your loved one, the easier it will be to communicate with them.
  • Be honest and open: Share with your doctor things you think are important or changing with your loved one, even if they feel embarrassing. Your health professional has heard it all, you will  not make them uncomfortable.
  • Be confident: If you don’t feel that your loved ones concerns or issues are being addressed, say so. You don’t have to be confrontational, but you do have to be their advocate. Try saying “I’m still concerned about her wheezing, is there anything else we can do about her shortness of breath?” If you don’t get an answer you are comfortable with after this, try asking “I’d like more information, is there anyone else that we could talk to that would help us understand this issue more clearly?”. These questions say to your provider that you are not going to let this rest, and want more information – either from them or from another provider.
  • Breathe: White coat syndrome is a real thing. If you get flustered or uncomfortable at appointments, take a few deep calming breaths throughout the visit – after you check in, once you’re settled in the exam room, and between seeing providers. Remember you and the provider have the same goal – to make sure your loved one has the best quality of life.
  • Name a Durable Power of Attorney: Ask your loved one about who they would want to speak for them, if they couldn’t speak for themselves. Help them complete a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care Decision making. Did you know that you don’t have to go to an attorney or notary of the public to create a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care? You only need to complete the form and sign it in front of two witnesses that are not family members or paid health care professionals. Here is a general form that is recognized in Michigan. Becoming your loved one’s Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care will allow medical professionals to speak with you about your loved ones care once it has been enacted.
    •   Making Choices Michigan has information about how and why you should list your health care wishes and name a health care advocate.

      Making Choices Michigan has a form you can fill out to list someone as a healthcare advocate and durable power of attorney

If you have questions about LifeCircles’ All-Inclusive model of care for frail seniors living in West Michigan, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you. You can call us at 1-888-204-8626 or you can email us at info@lifecircles-pace.orgLast Updated on August 24, 2020