Questions to ask doctor when an elderly loved one is in the hospital

March 5, 2019 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn, MD
in the ICU

Time in the hospital can be physically and emotionally taxing at any age, but for older people, time spent in the hospital can have an even bigger impact on their health and wellbeing after they’re discharged. You can help advocate for your loved ones and ask important questions. You’ll just need to be sure they’ve filled out the right paperwork so that you can help them and act on their behalf.

The questions you should ask

  • Do you have a definitive diagnosis and, if so, what is it? If your loved one is diagnosed with a serious condition, such as cancer, stroke, or heart failure, request a second opinion to confirm the diagnosis and learn about other possible treatment options. If the doctor does not yet have a definitive diagnosis, ask what possible conditions could be causing the symptoms.
  • What tests are being ordered and why? Ask what lab and imaging tests the doctor has requested and what those tests are looking for. If an invasive test, such as a biopsy has been ordered, ask about potential complications and whether there are any non-invasive, effective alternative ways to get the needed information.
  • What medications have been prescribed? Find out what medications your loved one is taking in the hospital, what the dosage is, why they were prescribed, how long they will need to take it, and what the potential side effects are. Be sure that the healthcare team treating your loved one is aware of all prescription and over-the-counter medications he or she takes and any allergies or serious side effects caused by medications in the past.
  • What are the treatment options? Learn about all recommended treatment options and the potential risks and benefits of each one. For example, if your loved one is 87 and is diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, how would surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy affect the prognosis and his or her quality of life?
  • Can we get a consult from a geriatric specialist? Especially if your loved one has multiple health problems, getting a consultation from a geriatrician can help ensure that all of your loved one’s health concerns are being considered and treated appropriately, not simply the problem that caused his or her hospitalization.
  • How can I review my loved one’s medical record for this hospitalization? Ask to see the records while your loved one is in the hospital and when they’re ready to be discharged. Check to make sure all the information, from name and date of birth to diagnosis and medical history, are correct to lower the risk of misdiagnosis or medical errors.
  • What happens after discharge? Will your loved one need more time to recover in a rehabilitation facility or do they need physical therapy? When should he or she make a follow up appointment with their primary care physician or specialist? How long should they continue taking medications prescribed in the hospital? What signs and symptoms should you look for that could indicate a problem that requires medical attention? Do we need to any medical equipment or a trained caregiver as my loved one continues to recover at home?