Caregiver tips for doctor’s appointments with older relatives

April 25, 2022 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn, MD
doctor's appointments

If you’re a caregiver for an older parent, relative, partner, or friend, one part of your role may be taking the person you care for to doctor’s appointments. There are several steps that can help you be a respectful, effective advocate and supporter for your loved one. These steps also play an important role in ensuring your family member or friend gets the care she or he needs, lowering the risk of misdiagnosis or inappropriate treatment, and making sure that his or her wishes vis a vis medical care are respected.

The first step is to have a conversation with the person you provide care for to sound out how they feel about having you play a role in their medical care. For some, your support will be welcome. Others may resist your help, wanting to preserve their independence and maintain privacy around their health. If they’re resistant, it may be useful to outline the ways having you included in doctor’s appointments can be helpful. You can help them prepare for doctor’s appointments, take notes during appointments, and handle making follow-up appointments and helping with insurance claims, for example.

Some people may prefer to get support from someone who’s not a family member or close friend. A health advisor can not only provide the support listed above, but also connect them with specialists, gather and digitize their complete medical records, provide evidence-based information on diagnoses and treatments, and arrange in-person or virtual second opinions when needed.

Being an effective advocate for a loved one at the doctor’s office

If your loved one is willing to accept your support, these steps can help you be an effective advocate for a family member or friend at the doctor’s office:

  • Complete the needed forms. Have your loved ones complete HIPAA release forms for all the doctors they see. If they have privacy concerns, they can limit what types of information can be shared with you. If they have cognitive issues like dementia or are frail and at risk of being hospitalized, talk with them about choosing a healthcare power of attorney who can make medical decisions on their behalf if they are unable to.
  • Gather information on all the providers they see. Since you’ll be coordinating care, get the names and contact information for all the providers your loved ones see. Find out if they offer a patient portal where you can request prescription refills, make appointments, and ask questions and set up an account to help you streamline access to care and information.
  • Learn about their medical history. Ask your loved ones what conditions they’re being treated for, what medications they take, and about their past medical history. If they can’t provide the details you need, once the HIPAA release forms have been submitted, request their records from their providers or access them through the patient portal and review them.
  • Let the provider know you’ll be attending the appointment. Ask if you can be in the exam room and share your healthcare power of attorney forms with the provider if you’ve taken on that role.
  • Come to the appointment well prepared. Before the appointment, talk with your loved one and make a list of questions and concerns to share with the provider. It’s also helpful to either bring all the medications and supplements they take or a list that includes who prescribed the medications and what the dosages are.
  • Keep the focus on your loved one. If his or her health and cognitive wellbeing permit, have your loved one lead the discussion with the provider. You can provide supplemental information, share your perspective on the situation, and add any information your loved one forgets to mention.
  • Take notes and ask questions. Track the answers to any questions you and your loved one ask, test results, new or discontinued medications, and any needed follow-up appointments, tests, or referrals. If a new medication is prescribed, ask what it is for, how long your loved one will be taking it, what potential side effects you should look for, and if it could cause a drug interaction with other prescription or over the counter medications your loved one takes. If there’s a new or updated diagnosis, ask for information about it. And if there’s anything you or your loved one don’t understand, ask for clarification.