It is difficult to watch our loved ones age, and being a liaison between them and their health care providers is a hefty responsibility. Here are some tips for navigating the health care system and communicating with doctors, specialists, therapists, and health aides on a loved one’s behalf. This can help you ensure that they're getting the best care and attention.
  1. Ask questions. It is every health care provider’s job, as well as moral responsibility, to make sure your loved one’s, and their care partners’, questions are answered. Maintain a written list of collected questions or concerns, and take it with you to appointments. Bring a pen and paper to jot down notes. Ask as many questions as you need to. If you don’t understand something, ask the health care provider to explain it in a different way.
  1. Gather all medical information. Keep a portable, durable file folder with the following information in it, to bring along to all health care appointments:
    • A list of chronic conditions that your loved one is being treated for.
    • A list of their past hospital stays and surgeries, what they were for, and the approximate dates.
    • As much family history as possible about chronic illnesses or other concerns. Even if you’re not sure about your family history, it’s important to share what you know. For example, sharing that you think a grandparent may have died of complications related to diabetes is helpful to your provider.
    • A detailed list of all the medications your loved one takes, including the dosage, frequency, and the reason they take it. Write down all prescription medications and over-the-counter medicines, including vitamins, nutraceuticals, or dietary supplements. If your loved one is receiving medication elsewhere, such as an infusion center for chemotherapy, make sure that is on the list as well. 
    • A list of health care providers and why your loved one sees them. Make sure you include their contact information.
    • A list of all pharmacies your loved one uses, including contact information.
    • A copy, with access to the original, of all legal forms. This includes advance directives, living wills, durable powers of attorney, do not resuscitate orders, and physician orders for life-sustaining treatment forms.
    • A copy of all Medicare and private health insurance information.
  1. Keep a list of financial information. Maintain a list of the financial institutions your loved ones use. Include their account information in case you need to access funds for their care. Keep this in a secure location, separate from their medical information.
  1. Identify one family member to be the main health care liaison. It is helpful for the same care partner to attend all health care visits. Older people tend to have multiple health care providers. Having one consistent family member at all appointments, talking with all providers, cuts down on miscommunication.
  1. Enlist the help of a professional. Many hospitals have patient advocates that can help resolve almost any kind of problem, from difficulties with care to problems with billing. Insurance companies have ombudsmen who can help you resolve disputes with the insurance company. Health insurance companies also offer case managers who can help you navigate insurance issues and answer disease management questions. Finally, there are private companies for seniors or people with disabilities that can help with daily activities or chronic disease care. Help is only a web search and call away.
  1. Be persistent. Be respectful but tenacious in your quest for answers and resources. If you cannot get the coordination or quality of care you need or the answers you seek, don’t be afraid to switch providers.
Nancy Kupka, PhD, RN, is an experienced home health professional and served as caretaker for her aging mother. She currently serves as Manager of Clinical Programs and Quality for Walgreens.
Although it is intended to be accurate, neither Walgreen Co., its subsidiaries or affiliates, nor any other party assumes for loss or damage due to reliance on this material. Walgreens does not recommend or endorse any products, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned in the article. Reliance on any information provided by this article is solely at your own risk.