Those of us without any cognitive impairment can find the doctor’s visit a frustrating experience. Doctors have very limited time with patients, and even with preparation, it is easy to get side-tracked and forget important topics you want to cover. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead, for yourself or a loved one. Here are the steps you can take to ensure a smooth visit:
- If you are attending a loved one on a doctor’s visit, or if you wish to be able to get information over the phone after the visit, find out what is required to release that information. HIPAA requires that you have legal authority to receive health data about someone other than yourself, and while some doctors may be okay with a verbal “okay” from the patient, most require a signed release of information, or ROI. Call the healthcare provider’s office to find out their ROI procedure. Remember also that most providers still use fax because of encryption issues.
- Always bring a copy of your medication list. Remember that your doctor may see dozens of people every day, and is not going to remember every bit of patient information. Also, if you are seeing multiple doctors, there may be a prescription that this doctor may not be aware of. This depends on how well electronic records are kept, and also how efficient doctors from different practices are about informing each other about patient progress.
- In addition to the medication list, it is perfectly fine to hand the doctor your list of specific questions or concerns – be sure to bring two copies, so you can be sure each topic is covered.
- If you are accompanying your loved one on a doctor’s visit, be sure the doctor is talking directly to the patient and not to you. This is true even if the patient has cognitive problems. While you want to be ready to express concerns and advocate for your loved one, it is important to have the dignity and respect of being talked to, not talked about.
- If you are not able to come to the visit and are concerned your loved one may not get all their needs addressed, you can send the doctor a note beforehand. Any time you are trying to reach a doctor by phone, the first step is reaching the doctor’s nurse. Call the office and ask for the name of the doctor’s nurse. Send a note with questions/concerns to the nurse via fax (most offices still use fax to avoid computer encryption issues) and ask that the doctor or nurse call you after the appointment.
It’s especially important to communicate directly with the doctor or nurse if you are having concerns about your loved one’s intellectual state. You can always request a cognitive evaluation. Families are often frustrated when the doctor doesn’t “see” that mom or dad are experiencing impairment. Remember that a patient can present well in a 15-minute appointment, so their issues may not be apparent at all to the doctor or nurse. Lay out your exact concerns with specific examples, and ask for a cognitive evaluation. Be warned that most doctors will not keep what you send confidential from the patient. The doctor is likely to say “I received this note from your daughter…” For many seniors, the physician is the one person in their life who they will listen to, so he or she can wield a lot of influence. Make sure you are using this power in your loved one’s favor.