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The Doctor Will See You — Now!

Say your elderly parents live a few states away.  They’re perfectly safe and happy as a rule, but mom’s been feeling a little off lately, extra tired, a bit achy, just not quite right.  You can hear it in her voice when you call.  Dad’s worried but not sure what to do next.  He knows it’s a hassle to get a doctor’s appointment.  In fact, it takes an average of 21 days just to see a doctor unless it’s a dire meet-you-at-the-emergency-department type of situation.  So he doesn’t make any attempts to schedule a visit.

You work full-time, of course, but manage a few days off to get down to see them and find out what’s what.  You know your mom: if she’s admitting not feeling well, if she’s actually complaining out loud, something is definitely wrong.  And you want to go with her when she sees her primary care doctor.  Time is short — for sure you don’t have three weeks to wait for an appointment and you can’t get back there later, either, not with your work schedule.  Is there any way to speed up the appointment process, to get this done now, while you’re still in town?

Good news!  Yes, you can move the process along.  Here are some tips from Marion Somers, PhD, of AgingCare LLC, to help you get care for your elderly loved one sooner rather than later:

  1. Be very friendly and warm.  You know this already.  It is very important that you set the tone, that you establish a good relationship with your elderly loved one’s doctors and their office staff, too.  Learn — and use — the names of the nurses and other staff members.  Make sure they know who you are and that you are sincerely appreciative of their help and guidance.  Show respect for their procedures.  This will help enormously with future issues, such as making appointments.
  2. Make it official.  As a caregiver, and whether or not your senior has an immediate or urgent health care need, see to it that you are properly designated as the primary caregiver.  As the official caregiver, according to Dr. Somers, you will “have the best opportunity to succeed in your vital role as a caregiver and to make sure that you have access to all the records necessary.”  This is different from being granted a formal Power of Attorney (POA), by the way, and will save no end of time and trouble should a serious health issue come up later on.
  3. Speak up.  As the primary caregiver, your job is to advocate for the senior you are charged to look after.  Do not hesitate to be persistent when it comes to the health or safety of your elderly loved ones.  You can be persistent and polite.  If you feel that someone in your care needs an appointment sooner rather than later, speak up — firmly, calmly, concisely.  Hold your ground.  And if you find that scheduling appointments is always difficult, consider changing clinicians.
  4. Communicate.  You probably don’t need to call the doctor’s office and update him or her about every single change in your loved one’s health or demeanor, but do your best to keep the lines of communication open with the practice.  And if there’s anything you need to add to an upcoming health evaluation, send it along to the practice (via fax or e-mail) before the appointment.  Keep copies of anything you send, and bring them with you for reference during the visit.
  5. Don’t hesitate or wait.  Most changes in your elder’s health or behavior are minor and normal.  However, should you notice a worrying change — and you will know the difference right away — call the doctor as soon as possible.  According to Dr. Somers, “Anything out of the ordinary should be brought to the doctor’s attention.”  Consider keep a log or notes of your observations to help the doctor identify significant patterns.
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