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September 01, 2023

Tips for communicating with health care professionals when caring for a loved one

Caregiving Tips

Content sponsored by IBC-Native-090123-CaregiverComm

Purchased - Caregiver and loved one in appointment with doctor Drazen Zigic/

If you’re caring for a loved one, your role can vary widely. Depending on the person’s mental and physical health, and how much assistance they want or need, serving as their caregiver can be a significant responsibility, and sometimes, a very stressful one. But dealing with their health care providers doesn't have to be one of the stressful parts. Here are some tips to make it go smoothly.

Defining roles

You and your loved one should clearly establish the role you’ll be playing before you start accompanying them to their health care providers. If other people are involved in your loved one’s care, you should clarify everyone's role to make sure everyone understands their responsibilities. When possible, a primary caregiver should be designated to:

  1. Interact with the patient’s health care team so they don’t need to explain the same thing to multiple people.
  2. Be sure all caregivers have the latest information about the person in case someone needs to step in for the primary caregiver.

Your relationship to the person you’re caring for may limit what their health care professionals can share with you. If they want you to participate in all aspects of their health care, you need to make sure you have the legal ability to do so.

The patient’s health care providers likely will have them sign a Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act release form. This tells the providers who they are authorized to give the person’s medical information to.

The person you’re caring for also can sign a power of attorney for health care. This provides you with the legal right to talk to their health care team, and, if necessary, manage their care and make decisions for them.

Before visits

When you and the person you’re caring for visit their health care provider, make sure you have all the information the provider needs. That includes:

• The patient’s medical history
• Their family’s relevant medical history
• Changes in their physical or mental health or life situation since their last visit
• All prescription and non-prescription medicines, and supplements that they’re taking

It’s also important to make a list of any symptoms the person is experiencing and of any questions they want answered.

If it’s the patient’s first visit to a provider, try to download any forms they need to fill out from the provider’s website before the visit. If that’s not possible, arrive early so you have time to fill out the forms before the appointment. If the person needs a referral form, be sure they have it.

During visits

The first time you see a health care provider while acting as someone’s caregiver, you and/or the person you’re caring for should introduce yourself and explain your role. It’s helpful to develop a relationship with the person’s health care team, to the extent that time permits. Along those lines, be polite and thank the people you interact with for the services they’re providing.

If you or the person you’re caring for have any major concerns, express them to the appropriate health care provider at the beginning of the visit. That enables you, the person you’re caring for, and the provider to make the best use of your time together.

Respect the privacy of the person you’re caring for. If they prefer to talk to the health care provider by themselves, let them. If the provider wants to talk to the person alone or perform a procedure without you in the room, respectfully accommodate that request.

Unless they want you to speak for them, let the patient speak for themselves. If you know that they’re answering a question incompletely or inaccurately, politely speak up. The person you’re caring for may understandably be squeamish about mentioning certain symptoms or problems, but all symptoms should be disclosed to the health care provider.

Always take notes during the visit. If you don’t understand something, or it’s clear that the person you’re caring for doesn’t understand something, ask the provider to explain it again.

After an appointment

After the appointment concludes, schedule any follow-up visits during the check-out process. If the provider wants the patient to see other providers, try to gather all the information needed to schedule those appointments as well.

Finally, don’t be afraid to speak up if you or the person you’re caring for aren’t happy with the health care they’re receiving. If the provider you’re dealing with is part of a system that offers social workers or patient advocates, talk to them about any difficulties you’re experiencing. And if worse comes to worst, don’t be afraid to change providers.

Helping a sick loved one deal with their health care providers is a big responsibility. But if you know what to do before, during, and after each visit, you can make it less stressful on yourself and the person you’re caring for and ensure that the person is receiving the best care possible.

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