You're a caregiver. You accompany Mom, Dad, or whomever you're caring for to their doctors' visits, because you want to stay abreast of what's going on and keep tabs on medications and upcoming tests and appointments. But you feel like a third wheel, and maybe you leave the office feeling overwhelmed and confused. You're not sure what questions to ask, or who to ask them to, so you keep your frustrations to yourself to avoid making your loved one anxious.
The good news: You're not alone. Many caregivers don't have a background in healthcare, and some have a difficult time understanding everything that's going on. Visits to a physician can be rushed and hurried, lasting a mere ten minutes as providers have dozens of patients to fit in in a single day. So how do you get the answers you need, and where do you turn?
Understand your role as a critical member of the care team
Many caregivers don't view themselves as a member of the care team when it comes to the practice of medicine. But you're a vital component of this team, and it's your insights and interactions with your loved one on a day-to-day basis that can help providers identify otherwise hidden problems and develop effective treatment protocols. Without you, your loved one may go to the doctor and say they're not forgetting things or not experiencing any adverse symptoms, when in fact they could be in need of further intervention.
You're the key to your loved one getting the care she needs. Don't allow yourself to think your role is unimportant.
Keep a care log
Some caregivers find it helpful to keep a journal covering their loved one's symptoms and their questions for healthcare providers. Questions may come up between visits that aren't urgent enough to warrant a call to the provider's office. Keeping a log will make it easier for you to come prepared with a list of questions so you're not racking your brain at the last minute when time is limited. You may also be given a lot of new information at an appointment, and you may not digest it all until much later. This is an opportune time to write down your questions and concerns.
Some providers enable patients and caregivers to communicate via email between appointments on specific questions, medication adjustments and so forth. If this service is offered, take advantage of it. Don't hesitate to contact your loved one's health providers between visits if necessary.
Be prepared for appointments
Make the most of each appointment your loved one has by being prepared. Take your care log or journal with you, in case the provider asks questions about certain signs or symptoms you may not be able to recall off the top of your head. Also come prepared with a list of questions you generated between appointments and a complete list of all the medications your loved one is currently taking, including dosage and frequency.
If your loved one is seeing a specialist and a family practitioner, the two may prescribe different medications and not be fully aware of the other medications your loved one is taking. Fortunately, many providers are now using electronic health records, enabling the easy transfer of pertinent information, but it's wise to take your own list as well to avoid any potentially dangerous drug interactions.
Clarify your understanding
Rephrase your understanding of the information you've been given in your own words. This helps providers gauge whether you have a firm understanding, and allows them the opportunity to explain more clearly if not. It's also okay to ask questions such as:
- What does that mean exactly?
- What symptoms should we expect to see in the coming days/weeks/months?
- What are the signs of an adverse reaction?
- What warning signs can I look for to indicate an emergency?
Take an advocate
If you're not well versed in medical terminology and don't understand your loved one's diagnosis or how to properly manage it, but you have a friend or loved one with a bit more background, ask for help. Take along an advocate who can better understand the conversation and ask appropriate questions on the spot.
Don't let medical appointments intimidate you. You're an important part of your loved one's care team, and providers are relying on your input and understanding to help them properly care for your loved one. You're an important piece of the care puzzle. Always communicate your understanding and your concerns; it only helps you serve your loved one better.