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Navigating a Complicated Health System

Advocating for a Senior Loved One

Author: Nicole/Thursday, June 1, 2017/Categories: Catholic Charities Aging Services

Q. I am trying to be an advocate for my father who has some health issues and I feel as though we are getting lost in this complicated healthcare system.

I have permission to be with him during the frequent visits to numerous specialists he must see. It seems when I bring up a concern, all we get is another series of tests, a trial for a different medication, or a referral to yet another specialist.

My dad doesn’t want to keep seeing new physicians and repeating the same information all over again. He doesn’t understand all of this “fussing” and would just like to be comfortable. I want him to have the best quality of life he can have. Is there an easier way to go about this?

A. You are certainly not alone with these feelings! Our medical system has become very complicated. We are learning about the human body and all of the different conditions and illnesses that can affect us; physicians are required to maintain a highly specialized focus and that leads to the many areas of practice. Our job is to learn how to navigate this system and get the most out of our encounters with different physicians.

First, I would have a conversation with your father about his own feelings related to his health and ask what he wants. In other words, what are his goals? For example:

Does he want to resume an activity he no longer performs because of knee pain? If that is the case, he may want to pursue a joint replacement. Or perhaps he’s willing to live with some limitations and be comfortable with having medication or exercises to reduce the pain. It all begins with understanding what your dad wants.

When the two of you see his primary physician, help the doctor understand the desired outcome. You might say something like, “Dad has been having more pain in his knee. He wants to be able to join the walking club at the senior center but he can’t and he doesn’t want surgery - so what are our options?”

That way the doctor understands and can prescribe a treatment regime that will support your dad’s goal. Please understand that it may still involve a visit to a specialist, however, verbalizing the fact that joint replacement is not want he wants means the specialist may pursue a different treatment regime.

It all begins with an honest conversation with your father about his desires and expectations. Write them down in order of importance and then share that with the doctors. That way, everyone involved with your dad’s healthcare has the same information and can function more cohesively to support him.

Navigating our healthcare system can be complicated and confusing, but you can take some actions that will give you a greater sense of partnership in the relationship.

Please contact Lynda Koivunen, Assistant Director of Aging Services, at 608-826-8003 or lkoivunen@ccmadison.org if you have any aging-related questions or to learn more about our programs.

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