Who will provide the best medical care for my aging parents? What is a geriatrician? My elderly mother is taking so many medicines, I worry they may be causing other side effects. Transferring medical care and changing doctors for elderly patients can seem like a daunting task. I know we need to change doctors, but how do I find a new doctor? Here’s 5 tips from our experience. Let transferring doctors be as stress-free as possible.
Disclaimer: I’m not a medical professional and anything on this blog is not intended to replace professional advice. It’s not intended to diagnose, treat, or advise. I encourage you to talk with your health professional about your specific situation.
Tip #1: Embrace Change.
Moving provides an opportunity to reevaluate goals, decide if you need to change doctors.
Change can be uncomfortable. In fact, change is often quite uncomfortable and for many of us we’d rather avoid change. However, sometimes change is unavoidable and if we have a good perspective we might even be able to see change as something positive. Whether it’s moving 45 minutes away or more, reevaluate who you’ll go to as your doctor.
Changing doctors requires a lot of organization, save our six steps for keeping the process simple.
Tip #2: Be a health advocate.
Regardless of if it’s your own health or a loved one’s health, it’s important to be a health advocate. This includes being knowledgeable about the conditions you are dealing with. Keeping a health journal is helpful to keep this organized for your family. This can be a physical journal where you keep track of health or an app on your phone since it’s with you at appointments. Check out our post on starting a health journal.
Some providers may feel like you aren’t paying attention to them if you are taking notes on a phone. In this situation, simply apologize for the misunderstanding and bring a physical notebook to appointments instead. Many providers don’t want appointments recorded as a precaution. So, especially with patients who have memory issues, it’s important to have a helper listening and taking notes during appointments.
Risk of contraindications with multiple prescriptions is real.
Anytime we introduce medicine and treatments into our health there are risks of side effects. Sometimes one prescription can interact negatively with another causing a whole other issue.
For example, the diuretics prescribed to some older individuals can sometimes exasperate memory loss symptoms.
Even though doctors ask you to bring a list of medications you are currently taking, some may not think about how each of those medications interact.
Request blood work and lab analysis when changing doctors.
Changing doctors provides a great opportunity to get a second opinion on health conditions. Ask new providers to do routine blood work. This will provide a good baseline for a care plan when you meet. While routine blood work is suggested as part of an annual health check, this can sometimes be neglected or overlooked by providers.
Tip #3: Know what kind of doctors you need when changing doctors.
When do I need a geriatric physician?
While a family doctor is often the primary care physician as a person ages it may make more sense to find a doctor who specializes in geriatric care. The needs of a 80 year old are different than a 20 year old. Geriatricians have a more holistic approach to care. They care about the quality of life for their patient just like a family doctor. However, rather than focusing on individual symptoms or conditions, they recognize there are often multiple conditions as a patient ages so treating arthritis in a hand if the medication causes memory loss or instability when walking may not be the best treatment approach. This is just a hypothetical example, consult your doctor about your personal situation.
Geriatricians are known for wanting to find ways to get patients off multiple medications versus walking pharmacies. If you’re wondering if a geriatrician might be a good fit for your aging family member, be sure to check out more of our suggestions on finding a geriatrician here.
Tip #4: Ask for recommendations or referrals when changing doctors.
Assuming you have a good relationship with your existing provider and you are sad to leave their care, ask them for a referral to another provider in the area you are moving to. It’s possible they are friends with a provider in your area.
Ask the community and friends in your area who they use and recommend.
Especially if you have trusted friends in your area, asking them for suggestions can maybe spare you a negative experience. We want to believe all doctors are awesome, but we all know they’re not all the same.
Ask recommendations from other local providers, find out who the popular providers are when changing doctors.
Perhaps you’ve found the specialist you’d like to work with, but their office says you need a referral. In my mother-in-law’s case her original primary care physician was out of state and restricted by insurance to not refer outside a 30 mile radius. We had yet to find her a new local primary care physician (PCP). So, we asked the receptionist at the specialist’s office who they suggested. The receptionist suggested a doctor who she knows many of her patients use and like as their primary doctor.
There are enough stressors when moving that finding new doctors and transferring medical providers shouldn’t have to be an added stress.
Tip #5: Transfer medical records and prescriptions.
Prescriptions won’t automatically transfer. Be proactive.
Prescriptions won’t automatically transfer pharmacies. It doesn’t matter if it’s the same pharmacy company. Be prepared with the information you’ll need for the phone calls. Fill all prescriptions before the move and don’t wait until the last minute or until the prescription is about to run out before working to transfer it. Depending on the prescription, they may transfer with only a phone call from the new pharmacy. However, some prescriptions might have to come directly from the new provider.
Furthermore, if you do prescriptions by mail, be sure to allow additional time and have a back-up strategy in case there are delays or the mail prescription won’t allow refills due to moving. If you place a call initiating the transfer, but don’t hear confirmation within a day, call the new pharmacy again to ensure the transfer is in progress.
Changing doctors means needing your medical records.
Unless you have specialized software, the easiest way to transfer medical records is likely between provider’s offices. Depending on your health situation, if the new provider is going to need medical records at the first appointment, be sure to start the record transfer process early. This can sometimes take two weeks or more because many offices still use antiquated processes. If there is enough time before your move it might be helpful to see your original provider one last time to intentionally take notes about current health conditions. Receive any necessary physical medical records while in office and create a plan for what needs to be addressed with a new provider.