How To Be a Health Advocate at Doctor's Appointments

Many seniors are under the care of multiple doctors and take multiple medications. As a caregiver, you can improve your loved one's health by being their advocate at appointments. As an advocate, you can keep track of details, coordinate the care provided by multiple doctors, and bring up any sensitive topics. Being an advocate can be challenging, and you will learn as you go. To make it easier, consider these tips:

1. Prepare for appointments ahead of time A few weeks before your loved one's appointment, ask them how they’ve been feeling and if anything is bothering them.  When your loved one is relaxed in their own environment and has time to think and talk things out rather than feeling on the spot in the doctor’s office, it is much easier to gather valuable information. You can ask these questions a few separate times over a couple of weeks to gather a big-picture view of how they feel. Be sure to write down their questions, concerns, problems, or new symptoms after you ask so it is easy to remember the details during the appointment.

2. Take notes Pretty much all patients can agree that it is nearly impossible to remember everything the doctor says during appointments. Taking notes at each appointment helps you and your loved one remember the important details and understand why certain decisions were made.

3. Make sure everyone is on the same page When the doctor explains health conditions or answers questions, make sure you and your loved one understand what was said. Do not be afraid to ask follow-up questions until everything is clear.  For example, you may ask: Why are you recommending that specific option? If you don’t ask, the doctor will likely assume that you fully understood what they said.

4. Understand treatment options and side effects It is very common for older adults to be diagnosed with and prescribed medications for multiple chronic conditions. While it can be daunting, it is valuable to have an understanding of the health conditions, their treatment options, and any medication side effects. Key questions you should ask about current or future treatments include:

  • How will this benefit my loved one?

  • What are the possible side effects?

  • Will this affect their ability to function independently?

  • What are the possibilities or consequences if we choose not to do this?

5. Ask for a full medication review at least once a year During a medication review, your loved one's doctor checks to see if all the medications are working well together, being taken at the right times and in the right combinations, and if they are all still needed. The best way to prepare for these reviews is to bring the actual bottles of everything your loved one takes (prescriptions, non-prescription drugs, vitamins, and supplements). This way, the doctor can easily see medication names, exact dosages, and prescribing doctors.

6. Bring up any concerns about treatment costs While many aren't fully aware of it, doctors are very capable of saving you money and most are very willing to help. For example, a doctor might discount their fee, give free samples of expensive prescription medications, make an effort to find a less expensive (but equally effective) treatment option, or tell you about financial assistance programs. Keep in mind that they won’t know to offer this help unless you express your concerns about treatment costs.

7. Coordinate between different providers Most older adults have appointments with numerous different doctors each year to manage all their health conditions. Unfortunately, not all of these doctors communicate with each other. You can help, because as the health advocate, you’ll keep track of what each doctor says, does, and prescribes. You can then share that information with the other doctors to make sure they have the whole picture and that treatments don’t conflict.

Remember, being a health advocate may be difficult at first, but it gets much easier as you go along. In the end, your effort will help keep your loved one healthy and comfortable.