Your parent’s doctor could be your biggest ally in helping you care for your ageing parents, so it’s important both they and you have a good relationship with them. You also need to feel they are taking good care of your parent. If you don’t – it might be time to help choose a new one.This is relevant whether your parent lives independently or is in care.
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, and notes changes between visits. 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, it is more aligned to their needs.
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, this doctor failed 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.
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
Doctors need a patient’s permission 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 would phone me so I could listen in to 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 about the doctors their friends see. Ask your friends who their parents go and see. Talk to associated professionals such as nurses, physios and pharmacists.The Australian Government has an online search tool for 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. It also had parking available for when I would drive and take him.
3. Do some research if you’re not familiar with the centre, check them out online and go in and visit
Observe how clean and comfortable the reception is and if the health literature available is useful. Ask the receptionist which doctors are good with older people. Some medical centres even have geriatricians (a specialist with older people).
4. Find out the names of the doctors names, and check them out online
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. While 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
The doctor might need that extra time 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, factor this in the cost of consultations.
8. Is there a pharmacy near by?
Most doctors’ have a pharmacy near by that can help manage your parent’s medication.
9. Once you’ve selected your parent’s doctor and made an appointment, with your parent’s permission, go with them to the first appointment
That way, the doctor meets you 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 didn’t listen in on every appointment but if I knew that Dad’s health has lapsed a bit or I noticed he was feeling down, I’d call the doctor myself. Since Dad had given him permission to speak to me, we could have very frank discussions. When Dad moved into care, I could call the staff or the nursing practitioner as well as the doctor.
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. And don’t forget, if your parent is in care, it’s still important to check that their doctor is still well suited.
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.
https://www.ahpra.gov.au/Notifications/Raise-a-concern.aspx – The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) works with the 15 National Boards of various types of health practitioners to help protect the public. Together, its primary role is to protect the public and set standards and policies that all registered health practitioners must meet. If you have serious concerns because you think a practitioner is placing the public at risk, you can make a complaint to Ahpra. This website also has links to other health complaints organisations if you have other issues with the practitioner.