There is a great deal to be gained by improving communications between family caregivers and healthcare professionals, especially physicians. Better care for the patient, less stress and illness for the caregiver, more efficient use of doctors’ time, reduced costs and improved satisfaction for all concerned can be achieved when caregivers communicate effectively with physicians. To achieve effective communication, family caregivers and physicians need to gain a better understanding of each other’s worlds. By trying to “walk in each other’s shoes”, better communication is attained.
- Educate yourself about your loved one’s disease.
- Write questions down before appointments so you will not forget them.
- Make a habit of taking notes during appointments so you can more easily remember what was discussed.
- If you have lots of things to talk about, make a consultation appointment, so the doctor can allow enough time to meet with you.
- Learn the routine at your doctor’s office and/or the hospital so you can make the system work for you, not against you.
- Recognize that not all questions have answers – especially those beginning with “why.”
As a family caregiver it is likely that you and your loved one have seen, or will see, the inside of a hospital more than the average person. When hospitalization occurs, there are things that you can do to feel more confident, ease your stress, and be a more effective advocate and respected member of the healthcare team.
When a cancer patient is hospitalized it may be for a procedure; to manage an acute problem, such as an infection; or because the cancer is progressing. Your role as a caregiver and advocate for yourself and your loved one is especially important at this time. Think of yourself as a member of the healthcare team, which also includes the attending physician, the hospital nurses, and a hospital social worker or case manager. Immediately upon arrival at the hospital:
Help Provide Information
You can be proactive, feel more confident in your dealings with hospital personnel and facilitate your loved one’s transition into the hospital setting by providing the patient’s medical history in writing, including:
- A list of the patient’s allergies
- A list of current medications and dosages
- A list of past treatments
- A list of all physicians and consultants who are caring for your loved one, along with phone numbers
- A clear and fairly detailed written description of your loved one’s current physical and mental capabilities
- A copy of the patient’s advance directive if there is one
Identify the hospital social worker or case manager
This individual can help you with a range of services, including financial questions, support and discharge planning issues. Discharge planning should start as soon as you enter the hospital because it takes time to arrange home healthcare, special equipment and who will be paying for these additional expenses.
Identify the “attending” physician
This individual is the primary doctor taking care of your loved one and will coordinate care in the hospital. The attending physician will be in communication with the other consulting physicians and often can summarize the entire treatment plan. Find out the best way to get in touch with the attending physician. At what number can the physician be reached and what times are best to call? Make sure the “face” sheet in your loved one’s hospital chart contains the correct name and phone numbers. Do not hesitate to continue to ask questions until you feel comfortable with the answers.
Get to know the nurses who are caring for your loved one
They can answer your day-to-day questions and are an excellent source of information and support.
It is very important to start thinking about discharge planning when your loved one first enters the hospital. It is important that the discharge planner (and the nurses involved) fully understand your loved one’s physical and mental capabilities, so the most appropriate help for you and your loved one can be ordered as part of the discharge plan.
Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare, also know as a healthcare agent or proxy, is the individual appointed to make decisions about medical care if your loved one cannot. That person may well be you. A healthcare agent can be assigned as part of the advance directive form.
Advance Medical Directives inform physicians and family members what kind of medical treatment and care your loved one wishes to receive in the event of his/her inability to make those decisions. A Living Will is an example of an advance medical directive. A Living Will comes into effect during an end-of-life situation. It records the specific kind of treatment and care your loved one wants at that time.