Communication is Essential for Good Elder Care

Like many people who have chosen some aspect of elder care as their profession, I was inspired to do so by a personal situation. And despite the expertise I have developed in my field, I am continually reminded of how my clients must feel whenver something happens that affects my family.

I have written many times about my wonderful 90-year-old mother. Despite almost total blindness due to glaucoma and kidney disease that now requires dialysis, she continues to live independently, with the help of non-medical home care for a few hours each day, and wonderful friends and neighbors. She has all of her cognitive faculties, and, perhaps because of the her poor vision, has an excellent memory for everything from her financial situation to the birthdays and phone numbers of her children, grandchildren and now, great-grandchild.

Recently, my mother needed a simple, out-patient procedure, from which she is already recovering nicely. Because I am her medical POA, I received a call from the owner of a home health company the day before, wanting to finalize the arrangements for a visiting nurse to look in on my mother for a few days after the procedure. The interaction left me wondering, as they often do, how people who have no experience in senior care, let alone a person who may be ill or disoriented by medication, can make informed decisions about their care in view of the quality of the information that is – or is not- provided to them.

I answered to phone to someone who gave me her first name and the name of her agency, confirmed that I am my mother’s daughter, and then asked me for her Medicare number, which, of course, is the same as her social security number. I had to ask at least three times what her call was regarding before she explained why she was calling, what service her company would be providing and why she needed that information. She had to put me on hold to get the name of the physician who had given her the referral, and she had no information about my mother’s procedure or what type of help she might need. And she became a bit miffed when I ased for the phone number of her agency so that I could call back to confirm her identity, since I was not comfortable giving out my mother’s social security number to someone who called me out of the blue.

This would be the part of this post where I would propose a solution, except that I have no idea what it is. Part of it is to remind those involved in senior care, and health care in general, to remember basic customer service skills such as clearly identifying themselves and the purpose of their call. Part of it is to remind the physicians to remember to advise their patients, so they can tell their families, that they have ordered home care following surgery, so they and their families should be aware that they may receive call such as these. And, of course, part of it would be for everyone and their families to be as informed as they possibly can about their healthcare and the steps involved in assuring it.

I welcome all of your ideas and suggestions, both for my family, and for all of us.

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