Long-distance caregiving of aging parents can be challenging. Here are 5 strategies to be a better long-distance caregiver when you can’t be at doctor appointments.
If you’re like me, you’ve been in a doctor appointment before where you thought you were listening well. You were asking good questions and taking notes. But, as soon as you walk out of the consultation it feels like you forgot everything? Suddenly, the notes you diligently took feel incomplete? You can’t remember the context or the details. There are questions you forgot to ask. You don’t know how long it’ll be until you can speak to the specialist again. Preparing for the appointment was stressful and you feel stressed afterwards, too. Sigh. We’ve been there with our own appointments. Overlay this with trying to be a long-distance caregiver. It starts to feel like there won’t be enough dark chocolate to calm the stress. (Not that eating dark chocolate fixes everything.)
Utilize online patient portals available by many practices.
Patient portals are available now for many medical offices. Portals often include:
- Notes from the provider about each visit
- Lab results
- Future appointments
- Prescription information
- Messaging capabilities to contact the doctor or nurse in between visits with questions
Keep a secure record of usernames and passwords for the different logins. Each office will have it’s own portal. Sometimes resetting passwords when they’re forgotten can be a huge headache and stressor. If anxiety and stress is a concern, check out our suggestions for dealing with anxiety here.
Brainstorm a list of questions for the provider.
Prior to the appointment, help your loved one brainstorm a list of questions they want to ask. They can take these in with them. Write these questions down well beforehand. I encourage my parents to keep a notebook of questions they can write down whenever they come to mind. Then, they just take that notebook with them to their appointments. Heck, I’ve even used this strategy myself when I had pregnancy brain! Ensure your aging parent has the list of all their medications up-to-date and ready to go to the appointment.
Ask to call and be on speakerphone or video while you are long-distance caregiving at the doctor appointment.
If you can’t be physically at the appointment as a support person, be there virtually. Make sure the patient knows how to make a call on speakerphone or with video prior to the appointment. Especially if your aging parents have memory loss issues, having another set of ears can help ease stress. Many offices have no cellphones rules in the exam rooms because they can be perceived as disrespectful. So, be sure to communicate with the provider’s office beforehand so they know the circumstances. Your primary long-distance caregiving role is to listen and take notes. Only speak if invited to ask questions or if you know the patient has forgotten something they planned to ask.
See if a trusted friend can physically go with them to the appointment if you are long-distance caregiving.
If possible, have the same trusted friend go to each appointment so there is consistency. Moreover, they will also know more of the medical situation to take notes and ask questions. After all, when you’re gathering information, having more information can sometimes change the equation sparking new questions.
Establish a positive relationship with the provider.
Even if you are unable to attend most appointments it’s important for doctors to know you are a patient advocate. Try to establish a working, respectful relationship with the provider so they know you are present in the patient’s life. Have the official HIPPA paperwork in place so providers can share medical information with you. Not all providers require written HIPPA paperwork to discuss care with long-distance caregivers. Often it’s helpful to have it on record.
What strategies have you used as a long-distance caregiver?
Comment below with your tips and strategies from being a long-distance caregiver. We’re in it together!