Communicating with Health Professionals
Solutions for improving communications with health professionals include:
Listing questions for health professionals
Asking about anything that's not clear
Giving health professionals respectful feedback
Finding health professionals who work well with the older adult
Before medical appointments, ask what questions and concerns the older adult wants to discuss, including:
Symptoms, such as pain, dizziness or vision changes
Changes with appetite, mood, sleep or physical activity
Problems taking medications or with side effects
Difficulty meeting daily needs
Questions about treatment options
Ways to improve health and prevent problems
If you have questions, add them to the list. Ask the older adult which three questions are most important. Circle them and make sure the older adult or you ask them early in the appointment, so you have time to discuss them. Bring the list to the appointment. If the older adult wants to focus on one topic, tell the health professional's office before the appointment. If the older adult and you have many questions, ask if you can schedule a longer appointment.
Appointment time is limited. If you don't have time to discuss important questions, ask if you can schedule a phone call or follow-up appointment. Don't expect any one health professional to have all the answers. Ask if they can recommend specialists, programs or other resources to address the older adult's concern.
Always tell health professionals if something is not clear to the older adult or you. It can help to:
Ask the professional to explain more fully or to use different words
Say what you think the professional meant and ask if you missed anything
Ask for written or visual descriptions
Ask what the older adult or you should do, based on what the professional said
Ask what is new or different, and how that affects the older adult
Ask health professionals:
If the professional is giving the older adult new recommendations or diagnoses.
What lab or other tests are for and when the older adult will get test results.
If the older adult needs follow-up tests or appointments.
If the older adult is getting new medications or changes to prescriptions.
The benefits and risks of different treatment options.
If the health professional doesn't speak the older adult's language, ask the office for a medical interpreter before the appointment.
Encourage the older adult to tell health professionals what they appreciate. For example, the older adult or you might want to ask health professionals to:
Use the name that the older adult prefers to be called
Look at the older adult when talking to them
Encourage the older adult to ask questions
Explain how you or others can support the older adult's health
Understand that the older adult's beliefs or practices might affect treatment decisions
Respectfully share any concerns with the health professional. Tell professionals if the older adult or you feel rushed, worried or uncomfortable. When you give health professionals feedback, try to be specific and positive. Health professionals work in settings and follow rules that are often out of control.
If the older adult is looking for a new health professional, ask the older adult what is important:
Office hours and location
Experience with particular conditions and treatments
Association with a certain hospital or provider network
Team care that can include physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers or dieticians
Gender or language
Ask friends, relatives and other professionals which health professionals they suggest and why. Start a list of potential health professionals for the older adult. Look them up online. Contact local or state medical societies to check if complaints have been filed against them. Ask the older adult to narrow down the list. Ask what would make the older adult choose one health provider over others. For example, does the older adult want a health professional who:
Focuses on older adult health or has many older patients
Welcomes family involvement in care decisions
Listens carefully to patients
Makes it easy to ask questions between appointments
Call each health professional's office. Ask if they're accepting new patients. If they are, ask the office about what's most important to the older adult. Add the information to your list of health professionals. Based on this information, the older adult can decide who to make an appointment with. After the appointment, ask the older adult if the health professional listened to them, explained things clearly and gave the older adult time to ask questions.
Summary: Improving Medical Appointments
Deciding on roles and responsibilities, including
How the older adult will get there
Who will accompany the older adult
Who will take notes during the visit
Gathering information that may help the provider, such as
A list of the older adult’s medications, vitamins, and supplements
A list of other providers the older adult sees
Legal documents related to healthcare decisions
Making a list of questions and concerns before the visit, such as
New symptoms like dizziness or hearing changes
Changes in appetite
Speaking up when something is not clear. It may help to
Summarize what you think you heard and ask if it’s correct
Ask for written descriptions
Ask the professional to explain using different words
Making note of next steps, which may be
Scheduling a follow-up appointment
Getting lab results
Visiting a specialist
Making adjustments at home
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