Doctor, are you Listening?

by The Caregiving Coach

As we age, it can be challenging to find healthcare professionals we can trust, particularly in today’s ever-evolving healthcare environment. In an era of heightened patient security measures, electronic medical records, higher patient census and cost-cutting, where are the doctors who will pause to listen to our concerns?

Where are the physicians who will see, treat and prescribe for the “whole” person? Who will take responsibility for coordinating the work of different specialists? Who will scrutinize and manage complicated lists of medications? Who will discuss medical issues in language patients can understand? Doctors who leverage their position of authority and respect make a difference in patients’ late life and end stories. Are those good old fashioned providers still out there? Yes, they are.

As geriatric care managers, our vision of excellence has been shaped by doctors who care for our clients. We’ve noticed that the best physicians act as the “captain” of their patients’ care teams, and make informed referrals to trusted specialists with whom they maintain some relationship. They track their patients’ progress over time, and also make a point to know the families, sharing important information with the designated healthcare proxy. In addition, they clearly present complex clinical information, and are open to addressing questions and concerns—big or small—as they arise.

People often feel vulnerable, diminished or at-risk as they age. Those in pain may be distracted and miss vital information at their doctor appointments. Patients with cognitive challenges may also have difficulty processing and retaining their doctors’ instructions. No matter one’s age, ailment, clarity or recall, the ability to ask good questions often disappears the minute words like “hospital” or “surgery” are mentioned. We find that older adults often feel more at ease if the primary care physician or trusted specialist can deliver news with a healthy dose of humor and sensitivity.

The Your Eldercare Consultants team works to empower clients to be savvy consumers of healthcare services. By modeling and coaching, we teach older adults how to be good self-advocates, and we also advocate for our clients’ best interests when they cannot.

At various life stages, older adults and their families should “check in” with themselves by asking questions to make sure they’re truly comfortable and able to communicate with their doctors. It’s important to know that there are always other choices when you don’t feel at ease with your current physician.

Is your doctor a good fit?

Ask yourself these questions and evaluate your relationship.

  • Do you mesh with your doctor? Does he or she listen and make an effort to understand your concerns? Conversely, do you respect his or her professional opinion?
  • Does your doctor’s personality type suit you? Do you need more of a sympathetic hand-holder or someone more direct, even blunt?
  • Does the doctor respect your time? Does he or she keep you waiting? Is he or she always rushed?
  • Does your doctor communicate openly? Does he or she explain things in a way you can understand?
  • Does your physician seem to want to know when something is wrong? Or does he or she not seem to care?
  • Do you feel comfortable when speaking with your physician? Can you be the “real you” when you disclose your concerns? Or do you feel judged or dismissed?
  • Is the office staff professional? Do they relay your messages to the doctor quickly or do they act dismissively? Do they greet you by name? Do you overhear them gossiping when you sit in the waiting room?
  • Is your physician usually reachable? Can you count on their answering service? Do they have a backup/coverage relationship with a trusted partner?
  • Does your primary care physician coordinate with other doctors and specialists? Or does he or she discourage second opinions? Most great physicians encourage it.
  • Has your doctor ever misdiagnosed you? Not every missed diagnosis is a sign of incompetence or negligence, but how did it play out? Hopefully, the doctor will apologize or offer a plausible explanation of the mistake.

Time for a change? If you decide to switch to a new physician, here are some questions to ask prospective doctors:

  • What’s the best way to get a message to you?
  • Will you talk to my family without my permission? Under what circumstances would you feel obligated to do so?
  • Will your office reach out to me on a regular basis for appointments? Or do I need to initiate for scheduling? How long is the wait to get an appointment with you?
  • Have you ever been sued for malpractice?
  • In the event that you’re not around, is there someone in your office assigned to handle my medical needs?

Have you ever had to re-evaluate your own doctor/patient relationship or help an older loved one? We’d love to hear from you! Please share with us by emailing lifemag@cje.net. Also, the Your Eldercare Consultants team is available for consultation about all of your caregiving needs. Please visit us at www.YourEldercareConsultants.com or call 773.508.1015.