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When Should You Talk To Your Parent's Physician?

Do you believe that your dad is not telling his physician he forgets to take his medication or that he doubles-up on doses sometimes?  Perhaps mom is falling and trying very hard to hide the bruises?  Do you get involved or let them manage on their own?  The answer is yes, you interject yourself.

Since this is usually a dicey situation (when you think that a parent needs help communicating accurately to their doctor), try to think it through before you act.

First, it is important that you understand parents' rights.  

If they are competent, even if you believe they are wrong, you are not allowed access to any information unless they grant you the right to it.  No health care professional will talk to you about your parents unless permission is granted by your mother or father.  The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, HIPAA, laws are very strong. Those laws protect the privacy of health information for all competent citizens, even those who might need assistance to manage some of their affairs. 

It is important you understand that many individuals are not completely forthcoming when they see their physician.

To say that they out-and-out lie would be a bit of an overstatement.  Many exaggerate or withhold information unless interrogation tactics are used.  People do this out of fear or embarrassment.  Think about it as your mom or dad might.  If your physician knows that you are falling he/she might push for a walker or assisted living. Neither of these options are a reason to jump for joy, at least for most elderly individuals, so they hold back a bit.  Anything to maintain the status quo.  Realize that most physicians are aware of this phenomenon.  The amount of time they have to spend with a patient, though, may limit how thorough the physician can be.

Now you enter the picture and are aware that something is just not right.  

I recommend you ask your parent if you may accompany them during their next doctor’s visit.  Many parents will surprise you and say yes.  If fear is their motivating factor, they may want you present to help with the discussion.  Many times we know what the truth is, we just need a little bit of assistance or support to express it.  The more elderly the parent, the greater the chance they will be willing for you to come along to their next appointment.

If your parent has granted permission for you to access information about their care, you are free to place a call to your parent’s physician.

Go ahead and have that discussion with the MD, if allowed.  Make sure to share the discussion with your parent.  It is best to be honest and upfront.  Parents will be less suspicious of you if you behave as a partner in good health and not a stealth activist to be feared.  Make that call when you are worried and unsure of what is happening with their health.  Better yet, make an appointment and accompany your parent.

Now, if your parent chooses to keep you at arms-length as it relates to their health care, there is not much you can do unless they are incompetent.

They do have the right to make choices about care, and their choice may not match what you would choose.  Recognize that they are living their life and you yours.  Do your best to be supportive and respect their choices, as difficult as that may be at times.  Feel free to bring up your thoughts at a later date.  Some of us need to stew on a subject for a bit of time before we are receptive to thinking a different way.


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