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Tips for Talking to the Doctor

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You are in the doctor’s office in a sterile, clinical setting. The doctor comes in and, instead of looking at you, the doctor looks at his computer and begins to ask you questions. The encounter doesn’t feel very personal or warm. The same scenario can be even more frustrating if you’re a caregiver taking care of your spouse or another family member and you’re struggling to get the doctor to interact on a more personal level with you as well as with your loved one.

How can you re-direct the doctor-patient relationship from the sterile encounter it’s become to a more patient-centered relationship? How can you be sure the doctor is discussing all the options you and your loved one need to consider? With the increasing prevalence of technological advances in medicine, the personal relationship has taken a back seat.

Dr. Atul Gawande talks about this shift in his article “Letting Go: What Should Medicine Do When it Can’t Save Your Life?”, published in TheNew Yorker in August, 2010. Dr. Gawande says, “In the past few decades, medical science has rendered obsolete centuries of experience, tradition, and language about our mortality, and created a new difficulty for mankind: how to die.”

Even when the circumstances are not life-threatening, many medical professionals have lost their focus on their patients’ quality of life. They have lost an interest in learning about the person they are treating and have stopped having meaningful, personal relationships with their patients. Despite the changing healthcare landscape, seniors often still trust their doctors explicitly—whether or not there is a strong personal relationship—because of the doctors’ education and status. This trust may do seniors a disservice if they fail to advocate for themselves and don’t have a family member or caregiver to advocate for them. So many healthcare options are available for seniors, and the different medications, therapies, and services (such as caregivers in the home, home health, rehab, adult day care, and hospice care) can be confusing.

Don’t wait for the doctor to make recommendations. Don’t wait for the doctor to bring up the subject of healthcare options. Too many families have found out too late about services and resources that might have helped them had they known earlier. These families are left wondering why the doctor didn’t mention a particular treatment or service. These 10 tips for talking to your loved one’s doctor can open a dialogue to build a more personal relationship and bring the focus back to your loved one instead of the computer screen.

  1. Visit the doctor with your loved one so the physician and his staff are familiar with you, and make sure they have permission to talk with you. Letting the staff know that your loved one has an involved advocate may enhance your loved one’s care.
  2. Make sure you ask the doctor to explain any medical diagnoses, the expected progression of any illnesses, and the prognosis.
  3. Ask about community resources that might help you and your loved one. Some communities have voucher programs, for instance, to help provide support for families caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease. Meals on Wheels and other services may be helpful.
  4. Be sure to talk to the staff as well as the doctor; the staff may be more familiar with community resources and may be able to give you pamphlets or brochures for different types of care.
  5. If the doctor does suggest specific care, be sure you and your loved one understand the details of the recommended service or treatment. Ask the doctor to explain the service or treatment to you.
  6. Make sure both you and the doctor know what kind of treatments or care your loved one wants or doesn’t want. If your loved one has an advance directive or living will, make sure the doctor has a copy on file.
  7. Ask why the doctor recommends a particular service provider or agency if one is recommended; you may want to ask for more than one recommendation for a provider and interview them prior to contracting with a specific company.
  8. Find out if the doctor is aware of any caregiver support groups or educational materials that might benefit you as a caregiver.
  9. If you are not sure you understand completely what the doctor has recommended or explained, ask more questions until you and your loved one are comfortable with your understanding of the situation.
  10. Don’t worry about remembering everything you should ask. It’s all right to ask the doctor if there are questions other patients ask or if there are other concerns you may not have thought about, but need to address.

Using these tips can enhance the patient-physician relationship and can make sure the focus of the appointment is your loved one’s best quality of life. The doctor and staff will recognize you as a partner in your loved one’s care, and this line of questioning may prompt your loved one to gain confidence in asking more questions of healthcare providers. Together, you’ll be able to research and plan for the best care possible.

Still have questions? Get in touch with us!

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