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Tips for Communicating with Health Care Professionals as a Caregiver

By Julie Hayes | 11/15/2021

A caregiver consulting with a health care professional

Caregivers for older adults often find themselves needing to play a key role as a communicator and decision-maker during their loved one’s health appointments. However, this role can often be challenging, especially when we are unfamiliar with medical terms, or feel like we shouldn’t burden health care professionals with questions they’ve probably answered a hundred times before.

But as challenging as it is, it is important to communicate comfortably and confidently with a loved one’s care team in order to build a relationship and a strong sense of teamwork as we work together to improve a loved one’s wellbeing. Here are just a few tips we can use to improve communication when working with health care professionals:

1. Do research

While being a caregiver doesn’t mean we have to become an expert on all aspects of a loved one’s health, it can still help to educate ourselves on their specific disease, condition and/or disability before communicating with health care professionals. The more familiar we are with these details, the better we can prepare questions and understand our options before going into important discussions. 

 

2. Familiarize yourself with the professionals involved in your loved one’s care

A loved one’s care is an important thing, and it’s equally important to trust and feel comfortable with those who are responsible for it. In early discussions with health care professionals, it can be valuable to take time to introduce ourselves and our role to them, and to hear from them about their background and qualifications. While doing so, we should pay attention to if we feel listened to and respected by them, and if the loved one they will be providing care for feels safe and comfortable working with them moving forward.

 

3. Record your loved one’s behaviors, concerns, challenges, etc., prior to the conversation

Health care professionals do not always have the same access to a loved one that we do, so they likely do not know everything we know about a loved one’s behaviors at home or in public, or what individual challenges they might be coping with. Keeping records can help us keep track of a loved one’s situation and needs, and makes our observations easy to remember and share during discussions.

 

4. Don’t be ashamed to ask questions

When it comes to a loved one’s care, we may have hundreds of questions in our heads, but hesitate to actually ask them. After all, professionals are busy, and what if they think our questions are silly? The reality is that health care professionals typically understand that we’re not experts and won’t look down on us for wanting more information. Remember that knowledge is key to making informed decisions, so it’s better to ask questions than to begin care planning without information.

 

5. Be assertive, not aggressive

When talking with professionals, it’s reasonable to want to be heard and respected. As caregivers, we often serve as an advocate for both our loved ones and ourselves, so we shouldn’t be afraid to speak up when we have concerns. But just as we need to feel comfortable with the professionals caring for our loved ones, they also need to feel comfortable with us. Being combative with them can lead to conflict which can distract from and complicate a loved one’s care.

 

6. Make notes before, during and after discussions

It’s not uncommon for so much to be covered in discussions that we lose track of important information and forget questions we wanted to ask. Before beginning the conversation, we should be sure to jot down everything we want to ask and discuss before the conversation is finished. While the discussion is happening, we can also write down the answers to these questions or any other important information we hear. After the discussion, we may also want to make note of next steps and follow-up items.

 

7. Ask about resources

A loved one’s care is a continual thing and exists outside of doctor’s visits and appointments. If we need information on how to move forward or where to turn to next, health care professionals can help in pointing us in the right direction, whether for respite services, home health care, care coaching services such as Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging’s WeCare…Because You Do, disease-specific organizations or support groups.

 

8. Recognize when changes need to be made

Unfortunately, not every health care professional will be a good fit for a loved one. If we or a loved feel like the situation isn’t working out to everyone’s benefit, it may be time to re-evaluate and look into other options.
 

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