How to Communicate with Your Parent’s Healthcare Providers

Doctor discussing patient with adult child caregiver

Adults over 65 visit physicians at more than twice the rate of adults aged 18-64. So as your parent ages, it’s likely their office visits may increase due to changing health needs.

It’s also likely that you will be asked to join them on their visits to provide support and help them communicate with their doctor. Here are some tips on how to best to communicate with your parent’s doctor and other medical professionals.

Getting Involved in Your Parent’s Medical Care

After having a conversation with your parent to make sure they’re on board with your involvement, you’ll need to make sure that your parent’s doctors are allowed to share medical information with you.

To do this, you can fill out an Authorization for Release of Information form. The doctor’s office will likely be able to provide you with such a form, but you can also find forms online. This form allows your parent’s doctor to share health information with you.

Now is also a good time to sit down with your parent and create a medical history. A medical history is a comprehensive record of a person’s health. AARP recommends that you include:

  • Name, birth date and blood type.
  • Allergies (drug and food).
  • Medications (including dosages).
  • Doctor’s visits and dates.
  • Dates and results of tests, procedures or health screenings.
  • Information about any major illnesses or surgeries.
  • Notes about lifestyle habits, such as drinking, smoking or exercising.

If you are becoming a partner in your parent’s healthcare, this list can be extremely helpful. You’ll have all of the most critical information at the ready for any future appointments and for your own knowledge.

What to Ask During a Doctor’s Office Visit with Your Parent

Before your parent’s next visit to the doctor, come up with a list of questions and concerns you’d like to bring up with the doctor. Work on it with your parent so they feel included and can add their own questions and concerns.

Here are some examples of questions to ask the doctor:

  • What is the diagnosis?
  • What are the treatment options? What are the benefits? What are the side effects?
  • Will my parent need a test? What is the test for?
  • What will the prescription do? Are there side effects? Will it interfere with current medications?
  • Are there foods my parent should or should not eat? Is there any activity they should avoid?
  • Is there anything we need to do before the next appointment?

It’s possible that there are things that your parent will not want to bring up in front of the doctor and may feel ambushed if you do so on your own. For this reason, it’s a good idea to go over your concerns beforehand and discuss what each of you would like to gain from the appointment.

Ask your parent—is there anything you don’t feel comfortable talking about with the doctor? It may be something that needs to be addressed and if this is the case, talk through it with your parent. It’s always best to ask ahead of time, though, so your parent does not feel uncomfortable or embarrassed during the appointment.

Barry J. Jacobs writing for AARP advises setting an agenda of sorts for the appointment.

“The caregiver and aging adult should strategize about what they want to accomplish during their meeting with the physician: Are you seeking information about medication side effects or the outcomes of prescribed treatments? Do you plan to report new symptoms or concerns? Or is your goal merely to ask questions about general health and lifestyle issues?” he says.

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Related: Ask the Expert: How to Involve My Parent When I Help Them

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What If My Parent Cannot Communicate Directly with Their Doctor or Healthcare Providers?

There may come a time when your parent is no longer able to communicate with their doctors due to a medical emergency. To prepare for this possibility, your parent can create an advance directive or living will.

Advance directives spell out the type of treatment a patient wishes to receive in the event they are unable to communicate. It would include your parent’s wishes on things such as:

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
  • Mechanical ventilation.
  • Tube feeding.
  • Antibiotics or antiviral medications.
  • Comfort care (palliative care).
  • Organ and tissue donations for transplantation.

Keep in mind, you and your parent do not need to make any decisions on your own. Talk with their doctor if you have questions about any of the treatments outlined in the living will.

Your parent may also want to appoint a medical power of attorney, especially if there is a question of who among your siblings will be the primary decision-maker in the event your parent is unable to make medical decisions for themselves.

The Importance of Good Doctor-Patient Communication

Clear communication with your parent’s doctor is vital to their health. Good communication can prevent medical errors and reduce repeat office visits.

Communication is particularly important for older adults with multiple healthcare providers. For example, your senior parent may have a primary care physician, a surgeon and a specialist who all need to be kept on the same page. They may be in a long-term care community or rehabilitation center, meaning their medical team will include therapists and nurses.

You are not alone in caring for your parent, as all of these medical professionals are there to help. Your main goal is to advocate for your parent and help them communicate with their healthcare team to ensure their needs are being properly met.

If you need help caring for your parent, MacIntosh is here to help. Contact us today if you have questions about your parent’s care.