Your parent’s doctor could be your biggest ally in helping you care for your ageing parents, so it’s important they have a good one, and you have a good relationship with them. If you don’t, or you don’t feel they are taking good care of your parent, it might be time to help choose a new one.
Choosing the right doctor for your parent can be challenging. For some of us, choosing a doctor or General Practitioner (GP) is simply a matter of who can get us the quickest service, write the script or give us a medical certificate. Others prefer the ‘old fashioned’ GP, the one who takes the time to know you, your family history, notes changes etc. Some prefer a combination of the two.
For our ageing parents, I think old fashioned works best. Not only because the style is more aligned to their era, but importantly more aligned to their needs.
Conversely, an ineffective doctor can make it more difficult to help your parent. Sadly I have had experience with an ineffective doctor with my Dad. Despite my Dad seeing him every week for a blood test, his doctor was failing to recognise declines in his overall health.
Moving doctors can be a big deal for your ageing parent, so it’s not something to rush into. Do your research. I helped my Dad move doctors – here’s how.
Criteria for choosing a new doctor
We knew what we wanted, a doctor who would:
- Take time with Dad.
He’s an old man, that can’t be rushed. If you fire off a series of questions he’ll take a while to respond. You’re not going to get what you need in a 10 minute appointment
- Be observant.
Dad’s rarely going to volunteer information. It’s up to the doctor to ask how he got that bruise, or why he’s walking a bit slower than usual
- Share information with us.
Dad of course needs to give his permission for the doctor to share information with us due to privacy laws, but there needs to be a willingness from the doctor to include us in the conversation (Dad’s new doctor dialled me in to hear some of Dad’s appointments if I couldn’t be there).
So once we knew what we wanted, we ran through the list below to work with Dad to help secure his Dream Doc.
Steps to help choose your parent’s doctor
1. Ask around – nothing is better than a first hand referral.
Ask your parents if they have heard who their friends see. Ask your friends who their parents go and see. Talk to other associated professionals such as nurses, physios, pharmacists. You can of course start with an internet search and the Australian Government has an online search tool to you search for GPs.
2. Work out somewhere easy for your parents to travel to independently.
I chose a medical centre close by to both bus and rail as Dad needed to get there on his own steam.
3. Do some research if you’re not familiar with the centre, check them out online, go in and have a look at the office.
Is it clean, what sort of literature do they have in the office? Speak to the receptionists. I was familiar with the centre so called the receptionist and asked her who was good with older people. Some medical centres even have geriatricians (a specialist with older people, like a paediatrician is a specialist for children).
4. If you have a few doctor’s names, check them out online as well. There are a number of online rating sites out there these days, which have pros and cons. I’d also do a Google News search to make sure they haven’t hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.
5. Make sure the doctor is going to be someone your parent can relate to. Some older people have problems with doctors from the opposite sex or different backgrounds. Whilst this isn’t generally socially acceptable, you need to find a doctor that your parent feels comfortable with.
6. Check that the doctor has the willingness to do longer appointments (to prise that information out of your parents).
7. Does the doctor bulk-bill?
For some people this won’t be an issue but for others essential. If they don’t, how much will the consultations be and factor this in.
8. Is there a pharmacy near by?
Most doctors’ have a pharmacy near by that can help manage your parent’s medication (more on that in another article).
9. Once you’ve selected your parent’s doctor and made an appointment, with your parent’s permission, go in with them for the first appointment.
That way, the doctor met us both at the same time. If you live too far away and can’t be there in person, ask your parent if they can dial you into the appointment so the doctor knows you are a key stakeholder in this relationship. If it doesn’t feel like a good fit the first time around, choose another. Don’t settle.
10. Check in every once in a while.
I don’t listen in on every appointment but if I know that Dad’s health has lapsed a bit or I’ve noticed he’s feeling down, I’ll call the doctor myself and since Dad has given him permission to speak to me, we can have very frank discussions.
11. Stay as involved as you need to be.
Some of you may not need to be so closely involved in managing your parent’s health. You might just need to know the doctor’s name and details. Even if your parent isn’t poorly, it might be worthwhile to sit in on an appointment or dial in for your piece of mind. If an emergency happens, it’s good to be in communication with their doctor to get a clear health picture.
We ended up getting a fantastic doctor for Dad. He took note of changes he saw in Dad and let me know about them. We discussed various options and importantly, Dad liked and respected him.
Some additional useful resources:
https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/ – Healthdirect is a government-funded service that provides free, trusted health information and advice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also call the helpline in Australia on 1800 022 222.