Senior Living Q & A:Tips for caregivers seeking medical information

Q. I am trying to help my 80-year-old mom with her medical care, but I have a hard time getting information from her doctor’s office. Can you suggest a better way for me to approach this issue?

A good first step is to ask the doctor’s office if they would like your mom to sign a HIPPA release before they give you information about her health and care. That way there will be no chance of their violating her right to privacy.

As a family caregiver, you must have certain essential information in order to provide the best possible care at home. The following four kinds of information should always be available to you:

Understanding the problem (What is the problem? What causes it? What are the most significant effects from the problem? What can family caregivers expect to accomplish in dealing with the problem?)

When to get professional help (for emergencies and during office hours).

Knowing what you can do to help, either in preventing the problem or dealing with it once it has happened.

Carrying out and adjusting the plan, including problems she might have, checking on the progress of the plan and what to do if your plan isn't working.

You need all of this information if you are to meet your caregiving responsibilities, and you should feel free to ask for this information and to continue to ask until you have it.

Your goal is to obtain medical information that you need as quickly and efficiently as possible, with as little stress as possible for yourself and with maximum help from the medical staff with whom you deal.

If you need information and feel the situation is an emergency, then you should call the doctor or an emergency room. Be sure the person to whom you speak understands that you believe this is an emergency. Use the word “emergency” in your question, and then be persistent until you have the information you need. Here are some examples of phrasing you might use:

“I have an emergency and need to talk to a doctor.” (Be prepared to answer the question “What is the emergency?”)

“I have a question about _________________ and I'm not sure if this is really an emergency or not. Who can help me decide?”

“I'm very concerned about ____________________. I think it might be an emergency. Can you help me?”

Know exactly what information you need, and state your questions clearly. Don’t give more information than is pertinent to the problem at hand.

NANCY TURNEY received a bachelor's degree in social work and a certificate in gerontology. If you have a specific question you would like answered in this column, email it to or call Turney at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, (818) 790-0123, ext. 225.

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