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AARP Expert

Tips for Coordinating with the Health Care Team

Coordinating the never-ending doctor appts, trying to get lab results, setting up therapy appts, getting new medicines and treatments - it's all exhausting! I did all this for more than a decade for my parents and some for my sister when she was hospitalized so I know how hard it can be. Here are a few quick tips to help make things go as smoothly as possible:


  1. Get legal authority to coordinate care -  Make sure your loved ones have advance directives in place. A power of attorney (POA) for health care gives you or someone else on the caregiving team the legal right to talk with practitioners, manage your family member's health care and make decisions if the person is unable to do so.
  2. Be prepared for appointments -  If you make their job easier and faster, medical professionals will be much more responsive to you. For example, download new-patient forms and complete them ahead of time; bring your notes and questions with you; bring medical history and other medical documents; allow plenty of time so you aren't late and your loved ones aren't rushed.
  3. Ask about telemedicine -  Virtual medical appointments can be an effective and convenient tool for both practitioners and patients, especially for those with significant mobility issues or health conditions that make them more vulnerable to infections.
  4. Take notes - Document everything! You never know what might be important someday. I take notes at every appointment and procedure, and also record when tests take place, as well as the results. Often, I can find what the doctor said at the last visit more quickly in my notes than she can on her computer.
  5. Clarify roles - If you're lucky, you are not the only person working with the health care team. While I held the primary health care POA for my parents, my sisters sometimes helped coordinate care. It was important that we kept one another updated and that practitioners knew it was OK to talk to any of us about our parents.
  6. Don't assume one doctor knows what another is doing - You are the information hub. Keep track of tests, diagnoses, treatments and plans, and share that information with each of your loved one's physicians. Many health care offices have online portals on which you can set up a profile for yourself or a family member, exchange messages, get doctors’ notes and see lab and other test results.
  7. Establish mutual respect - Establish positive relationships with doctors, nurses, assistants, technicians, therapists, social workers, support staff and others, and be respectful of their skills and time. And when any of them does a good job, be sure to express your gratitude. At the same time, gain their respect. Model the kind of interaction you'd like to have from them, including being pleasant and patient. Ask clear and concise questions to avoid stretching out appointments, but be firm about getting them answered.
  8. Focus on what gets results in each office - I've saved time and improved communication with providers by building relationships with receptionists, office managers, billing staff and physician's assistants. It may take some trial and error, but you'll figure out who in each office is most likely to get a question answered and get back to you.

You'll find more details on these tips and a few additional ones in my column on "Tips for Family Caregivers Managing Medical Matters"!


Take care,

Amy Goyer, AARP Family & Caregiving Expert

Author, Juggling Life, Work and Caregiving


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