Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have documented that providers are spending less time with patients in their offices, only an estimated 15 to 20 minutes. If you are a caregiver, you can help your elder or other special needs loved one make the most of their next office visit as well as their hospital stay where providers also may have limited time with each patient. As a geriatric care manager in this role, I always work to be well-prepared for a visit in any of these clinical settings and also to take careful notes that I can reference later when I am in care planning mode. Here are some ways that those of you who are caregivers can also be more effective care managers and care planners.
- First step before a visit to a physicians’ office or hospital is to be prepared with all appropriate medical emergency information which will include Medic Alert information on allergies, special medical conditions or implants or other factors that are relevant to the patient’s health status. It is also important to have a complete of all prescription and over the counter medications the patient takes regularly, and in what doses. Remember that the patient you care for may overlook aspirin or Tylenol, so you should ask specifically about these taken for granted medications or herbal supplements.
- For virtually any patient, this will not be a first visit to the provider or to the hospital, so it will also be important to be prepared with a list of symptoms or any other complaints that have precipitated the medical visit. You and the patient for whom you care are also likely to have questions for which you want answers. In the potential rush of a visit, it can be easy to forget, so write them down ahead of time so that you can easily ask them. And one question you may wish to always address is if your provider is talking with the other medical professionals who may be caring for the patient. Even if you are visiting a dermatologist, it will be important for the provider to also be reporting back to your primary care physician.
- As a caregiver, I also encourage you to not be left out of the actual provider visit in the exam room or in the hospital room when the physician comes around. Even if it means you are just there to remind your loved one of their questions or complaints or to take notes, being there in real time is a hugely efficient step toward better continuity of care. Providers may ask your loved one to sign a HIPAA waiver so that they may speak to you about what otherwise is confidential information, so be expecting it.
- I add one more item that is an increasing concern for institutionalized patients. Be vigilant about providers’ hygiene when they visit bedside. They should always wash, use sanitizing lotion or wear rubber gloves. And in an intensive care unit, providers need to be even more careful about what they may transmit to one patient from contact with another patient, provider or visitor. It may seem awkward, but it is good medicine to ask providers to wash before approaching a patient. Opportunistic infections can be on a physician’s hands, lab coat or even their tie. It is estimated that infections kill 100,000 patients in hospitals and other clinical settings each year.