As seen in the first show, certified Gerontologist Mary Winners suggests to the Urquiza family that her sons accompany their mother when she visits her doctor. Acting as an advocate for their mother, they can insure all her needs are met. As founder of About Senior Solutions, a geriatric evaluation and referral company, Ms. Winners has over a decade of experience helping caregivers navigate the confusing maze of health care options. Below are Ms. Winners' suggestions to help caregivers be effective Healthcare Advocates for their loved ones.
Before the doctor's office visit:
- Make sure you have an Advanced Health Care Directive for your loved one - that really empowers the caregiver to help - some doctors won't talk to you unless you have it.
- If another friend or family member has decision-making authority with the Advanced Health Care Directive (AHCD), but you frequently take your loved one to appointments, sometimes a HIPAA Release can assist in communicating with the doctor.
- Prepare for the doctor's visit - keep a log or journal of changes in behavior, pain levels, new symptoms - things that are alarming you - to discuss during the appointment.
- Prepare questions in advance - know what you want to ask while you are there.
- Prepare your loved one for the trip to the doctor, make sure you have plenty of time to get there to take the stress level way down.
- Bring something to keep the patient occupied while in the doctor's waiting room, books, needlework, etc. Perhaps you can even tape your loved one telling stories about old times with the recorder you brought to tape the doctor's information.
During the doctor's visit:
- Don't be afraid to ask for answers in plain English.
- Ask how long before you should expect to see results when a medication is prescribed.
- Ask the doctor to have your loved one qualified for home health care or hospice care when needed -- these costs are covered by Medicare and insurance and can provide wonderful extra support.
- Ask the doctor if you can record the visit - so you can review all the information - it can be too overwhelming to try to remember it all.
- Ask the doctor to tell you how to identify when your loved one is experiencing an emergency medical situation.
- Ask for exact instructions about what to do and who to call when medical emergencies occur.
- Talk to the doctor about any financial concerns you may have about paying for medication or out-of-pocket costs.
- Doctors often address the adult child instead of the actual patient - make sure the doctor is talking directly to the patient, not you.
After the doctor's visit:
- Using common sense is important, if you don't feel comfortable with what your doctor is telling you, ask for a second opinion, see a specialist or talk to your insurance company.
- You have the right to all your medical records. It's a good idea to ask for records after a hospital stay or from a specialist to keep for yourself and provide to your primary (PMP-primary care physician). The organization may charge a small fee, but it's worth having a record.
- Make sure any home care agency you use to hire in-home nursing help is insured and bonded and worker's compensation as well.
For the hospital or emergency room:
- Make sure you are really clear in communicating to nurses and staff why you have brought your loved one into an emergency room - be very clear if you believe a heart attack or stroke is occurring.
- Keep a copy of your loved one's medications, dosages and usage. If you don't know, make sure that you have a list of all of their medical conditions. Knowledge of these two items can mean life or death when emergency responders need to act fast.
- Keep copies of your loved one's insurance to make things run smoother in an emergency.
- You may be able to set up all of this information online through your healthcare company. Some companies provide a service to keep this information online, allowing you to access it anywhere in the world if you weren't home in an emergency.
- If your loved one must be hospitalized, you absolutely must have his or her Advanced Healthcare Directive in your possession, especially if your loved one can't communicate for his or herself.
- A hide-a-key or lock box for your loved one's home is important to have to avoid fire department personnel and paramedics having to break a window or door to get access. Some fire departments will record the location of a hidden key for an emergency.
- Keep your phone number on your loved one's refrigerator so emergency responders can call you if needed.
- Keep an emergency bag for yourself in the trunk of your car - just in case you wind up spending many hours in an emergency waiting room. Pack water, snacks, and a book.
These checklists will help any caregiver be the best advocate for a loved one.