Being a caregiver has many benefits and drawbacks. While caregiving can be a wonderfully rewarding and inspirational career, it’s also a very challenging job, and many caregivers find themselves frustrated with the difficulties of their positions. Of all of these challenges, though, few are more agonizing than the task of trying to figure out how best to communicate with doctors and nurses on behalf of a senior.
For older adults, communicating effectively with care staff is often a difficult task. Thanks to cognitive decline or a simple unwillingness to speak up, seniors often don’t effectively express their needs to doctors and nurses, and the responsibility to ensure the senior’s medical wellbeing falls to caregivers.
While this can be a stressful experience for both parties, it doesn’t have to feel like a burden. Here are several tips for caregivers who want to learn how to communicate more efficiently with a senior’s care staff:
Communicating On Behalf of a Senior 101: 7 Tips to a More Open Dialogue
1. Develop a relationship with the senior’s doctors
Unless you have an ongoing relationship with a senior’s care professionals, communicating with them effectively can be a challenging task. Because of this, it’s essential to dedicate some time and energy to developing relationships with a senior’s doctors and nurses. The best way to do this is to attend as many appointments as possible with the senior you care for.
In addition to allowing you to get a feel for each doctor or nurse’s care style, this will also enable you to spot certain dynamics or difficulties and prepare yourself for how best to deal with the professional and his or her unique style of care and communication.
This is especially critical for caregivers working with seniors who see multiple doctors on a regular basis. Because each of these doctors’ care styles and treatment approaches may differ, it’s smart for caregivers to understand, as fully as possible, what makes each doctor tick and how best to communicate with each team to ensure the long-term care and well-being of the senior.
2. Gain inclusion in the HIPPA contract
HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) dictates that doctors, nurses, and other care professionals are not allowed to discuss a client’s personal medical information with anyone else unless the person is incapacitated and over the age of 18. While HIPAA rules are in place to protect patients, they can make it difficult for caregivers to access relevant health information about the elderly people they care for.
Because of this, it’s essential that caregivers gain inclusion in the HIPAA contract before it becomes time to speak with medical professionals on behalf of a senior. This enables caregivers to help seniors make medical decisions and to protect the senior’s overall health and wellbeing better. It also ensures that the caregiver will have all of the information needed should a major medical decision present itself.
3. Ask plenty of questions
Helping seniors understand and respond to medical conditions and care options can be difficult, and things like diagnoses and medical-speak are often far from easy to interpret. Because of this, it’s essential for caregivers to ask plenty of questions to fully understand a senior’s condition and what, if anything, can be done in some cases. This empowers the caregiver with relevant information and is an efficient way for caregivers to safeguard better the health and well-being of the seniors they care for.
While many caregivers shy away from asking questions because they believe they’ll be perceived as stupid or incapable, it’s important to ask for clarification any time you don’t understand something. Knowledge is power, and clarifying confusing explanations and asking for more information allows seniors and their caregivers to work together as a unified team.
4. Avoid assuming the worst
Among caregivers, specifically family caregivers, there’s often an assumption that a senior’s medical staff doesn’t want to help the caregiver provide care. Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to communicate efficiently and can have a drastic negative impact on the senior’s overall care and wellbeing. Instead of being combative with doctors or nurses, caregivers will do well to view them as skilled allies who actually want to help resolve problems and provide the best possible care for a loved-one.
When caregivers take the time to develop this type of relationship with doctors and nurses, caregivers and medical staff can work together to provide outstanding care for seniors without excess frustration and missed opportunities for communication.
5. Write down your questions
Many caregivers think of questions when they’re not in a doctor’s office. By the time they make it to the next appointment, though, they’ve forgotten their questions. This makes it easy to bypass critical inquiries and neglect essential queries that can help safeguard a senior’s health and well-being. Because of this, it’s essential for caregivers to write down their questions and bring them to the doctor’s office at every appointment. This ensures critical questions are being asked and prevents caregivers and seniors from suffering the fallout of forgotten information.
6. Make additional appointments for additional concerns
Doctors and nurses are busy people, and they may not have time during a meeting to discuss, at length, all of your questions and concerns. While many caregivers take this as a sign that the doctor doesn’t care, this is seldom the case. To avoid frustration and ensure all questions are answered as thoroughly as possible, don’t hesitate to make an additional appointment. This can help facilitate more functional communication and avoid frustrations born from misunderstandings.
7. Encourage the senior to speak on his or her behalf
While caregivers must learn to communicate effectively on a senior’s behalf, it’s also important to encourage a senior to speak up wherever possible. Often, the message is a bit louder when it comes from the senior’s mouth, and doctors may well understand things better from seniors than they do from caregivers.
In some situations, it’s essential for caregivers to learn how to communicate with their seniors or on behalf of them. While this can be a confusing dynamic to learn, understanding different communication necessities and timeframes is critical for good ongoing communication.
Excellent Communication Starts Here
While learning to communicate on behalf of seniors can be difficult, it’s a critical skill for family caregivers and hired caregivers alike. By developing relationships with doctors and nurses, bringing lists of questions to every appointment, scheduling additional appointments for questions and concerns that will take more time, encouraging seniors to speak for themselves when and where appropriate, becoming included in a HIPAA contract, and holding off on assuming the worst, seniors and their caregivers can develop effective communication strategies that help ensure a good relationship with doctors and nurses and the best possible care.