Pathways to Effective Communication for Health-Care Providers and Caregivers

Steven Mott by Steven Mott | Licensed since 2012
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This article was updated on: 05/15/2017

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As a caregiver, effective communication between you and your loved one’s health care team is essential. Doctors rely on you to give them important clues and information about their patient’s status and home situation, and you rely on them for the information you need to keep your loved one as healthy and comfortable as possible.

Unfortunately, sometimes effective communication might be a challenge. Doctors and nurses might have tight schedules or use unfamiliar terms; on the other hand, caregivers don’t always know what information the health-care providers need or the right questions to ask.

If you are the primary caregiver for an aged or ill loved one, here are some tips from the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) for maximizing effective communication between you, your loved one, and his or her health-care providers.

How can the caregiver ensure effective communication at the doctor’s office?

Whether you are seeing a primary care doctor, or visiting a new therapist or specialist, here are some tips to prepare:

  • Write down all your questions and concerns before the visit to make sure you don’t forget anything. Do you feel uncomfortable about the risks of an upcoming surgical procedure or worry that a medication is making your loved one too sleepy? Jot your concerns in a notebook and bring it to all doctor visits. You can also use the notebook to record unusual symptoms or other changes in your loved one’s health status to keep your doctor informed.
  • Bring your loved one’s insurance information, as well as the names of his specialists’ names.
  • Prepare (and regularly update) a complete medication list of every prescription drug and over-the-counter medication your loved one takes and show it to every doctor who treats her. If a new medication is prescribed, make sure you understand why it is being ordered, the dosing instructions, and any potential risks and side effects.
  • Ask whether the provider has the appropriate permissions and legal documentation on file to discuss your loved one’s health information with you; if not, take steps to get those authorizations.
  • Find out everything you can about your loved one’s diagnosis and prognosis. Is his condition likely to improve or worsen? What may have caused it? What should you be aware of at home? If you aren’t satisfied with the information you receive, consider a second opinion. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information; effective communicationstarts with getting complete answers to your questions and understanding your options.

What are some caregiver tips for effective communication at the hospital?

In many hospitals, reports the Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA), your loved one may be attended by a hospitalist, or a doctor employed by the hospital — not necessarily your loved one’s regular doctor. The hospitalist typically doesn’t have the benefit of a long history of office visits with your loved one. As a caregiver, you may need to help the doctor get a clear picture of your loved one’s condition and complete medical history—and you may need to repeat the information for other specialists and therapists who treat him or her. Other things the FCA advises you to keep in mind as a caregiver:

  • Designate one person or caregiverto be the point of contact between the hospital staff and other family members. If you are that person, be sure everyone who treats your loved one has your home, work, and cell phone numbers, and ask to be called whenever there is a change.
  • Ask about discharge planning as soon as possible after admission, especially if your loved one has a new illness or condition.
  • Make sure everyone who treats your loved one is made aware of any cognitive impairments such as memory loss, Alzheimer’s, or other dementia.
  • Know who to contact if you have any questions or concerns about your loved one’s care or treatment decisions made in the hospital. Look for the customer service information on the back of your loved one’s health insurance member ID card.
  • If your loved one has advance directives or a living will or other legal health care document, make sure the hospital has a copy in the chart. Let all health-care providers know about any end-of-life decisions, including life-sustaining measures.
  • Remember, you have the right to have an interpreter present in any health-care setting if English is not your first language, or you or your loved one aren’t comfortable with the level of communication. A lack of effective communicationat the hospital can be catastrophic, so be sure to ask for an interpreter if you need one.

This article is for general information only and may not apply to your circumstances. This article should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult with your medical provider regarding diagnosis or treatment for a health condition, including decisions about the correct medication for your condition, as well as prior to undertaking any specific exercise or dietary routine.

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