Communicating Effectively with Healthcare Providers

By Barbara Small - Family Caregivers Society of British Columbia

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Family caregivers play a major role in ensuring that their loved ones receive the healthcare that they need. This role may include initiating care, accompanying them to appointments, asking necessary questions or co-ordinating the many healthcare practitioners involved.

As the primary caregiver, your experience and knowledge is invaluable to healthcare practitioners, many of who will not know the person and his or her needs as well as you do. Therefore, it is important to know how to communicate effectively with the healthcare team. Below are some tips to help you in this role:

* Ensure you are familiar with each member of the healthcare team involved in your family member's care, and their responsibilities.

* Be sure they understand your role. If the care recipient is not willing or able to take instruction, ensure they give permission for you to be kept informed.

* Before an office visit or telephone call or prior to the home support worker arriving, prepare a list of questions to ask or information you want to give them. You will save time and you won't be distracted trying to remember what you want to ask. Be concise and focus on the issues.

* If you need information or have questions, don't wait for the healthcare provider to contact you. Be proactive and give them a call, then follow-up if you don't hear back from them. Keep in mind that although the person you are caring for may be your number 1 priority, the case manager, doctor or home support worker has many other clients.

* Clarify instructions. If you are not sure you understand or don't know the meaning of technical terms, ask again until you are satisfied.

* Some doctors have specific hours when they take calls. Find out when this is and call during those times or leave a message with the secretary in the morning for the doctor to return your call.

* When communicating with healthcare providers, being clear and direct is important. Hinting or hoping they read your mind does not make good use of anybody's time.

* Appoint one family member as the main contact with healthcare professionals when possible. The appointed person can clearly communicate with the rest of the family.

* Keep records of your loved one's behaviours, such as sleeping, eating, emotions, symptoms, medication habits, etc. The more detailed information you have, the easier it is for your doctor or home support worker to give your family member the best treatment.

* Separate your anger and sense of frustration about your inability to help your family member from your feelings about the healthcare practitioners. Remember, you are on the same side. 


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