Caring for someone with a chronic illness is a responsibility that comes with many challenges. From daily health monitoring to managing multiple medications and coordinating doctor and specialist visits, caregivers go to great lengths to safeguard the health and well-being of their loved ones.
More than 65 million people in the United States care for a chronically ill, disabled or elderly loved one. In fact, in Arkansas alone, there are approximately 360,000 caregivers. Among their numerous responsibilities, caregivers often serve as advocates for their loved ones when visiting the doctor. This role is crucial, as good communication between caregivers and doctors can help improve care for the patient and reduce caregiver strain.
While good communication takes practice, caregivers in Arkansas can start to see noticeable improvements in their communication with their loved one’s doctor by considering the following tips:
- Introduce yourself: Obtain permission from your loved one to speak directly with his or her doctors. This typically requires signing a release form at each doctor’s office. Once the paperwork is complete, introduce yourself to the doctor and explain your role in providing care to your loved one. Ask questions to gather important information about your loved one’s care, including diagnoses, medications and ongoing care needs. Taking these steps may help you get access to information about your loved one’s conditions in the future.
- Educate yourself: Understanding your loved one’s chronic illness will help you better communicate with the doctors who are responsible for your loved one’s diagnosis and treatment, helping to make you a better advocate for his or her health needs.
- Document important information: Keep a record of physician contact numbers, necessary medication refills, and symptoms or health changes. This will help you remember what to address at each visit, and may help the doctor make more informed decisions regarding care and next steps. Ask for copies of test results, and keep them on hand for future reference.
- Understand health coverage and benefits: Before you visit a doctor, find out what medical services are covered by your loved one’s health benefit. Some chronically ill seniors qualify for Medicare Advantage Special Needs Plans, which offer coverage tailored to their specific illnesses, as well as support for caregivers. If you have questions about coverage, call the number on the back of the insurance card to research the out-of-pocket costs for each type of visit, test or procedure so there are no surprises.
- Ask questions: Write down any questions you have ahead of time so you don’t forget them during your loved one’s appointment. During the visit, take notes so you can remember important information and research it further when you get home.
Visiting the doctor with a loved one who is chronically ill can be an emotional experience, but clear communication can help make these visits more productive and beneficial for doctors, patients and caregivers. Remember that you and the doctor share the same goal: providing the best care for your loved one. By working on your communication with your loved one’s doctor, you’re making it more likely that the goal will be reached.
Ray Morris is the Community Outreach Manager for Care Improvement Plus in Arkansas. Care Improvement Plus provides specialized Medicare Advantage coverage for underserved and chronically ill beneficiaries throughout Arkansas. Care Improvement Plus is owned and operated by XLHealth, a UnitedHealthcare company.
 “Caregiving Statistics – Impact on Family Caregiver’s Health” nfcacares.org, http://www.nfcacares.org/who_are_family_caregivers/care_giving_statstics.cfm