Adventures in Retirement – Communicating with medical staff takes team effort

Written by Bill Leavitt. Posted in Featured, Health & Wellness, Senior Living

Published on September 19, 2018 with No Comments

Seniors sometimes have communication issues with doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, which result partly from their poor memory, partly from their hearing problems.  These issues can cause misunderstandings that prevent effective medical care.

Part of the problem is that medical personnel often don’t understand seniors’ communication problems.  Younger medical staffers may find it hard to relate to the difficulties seniors deal with.  They may assume you know things that you don’t know, or hear things you don’t hear, or remember things you don’t remember.

A recent problem I encountered cause me a lot of stress.  When I made an appointment for minor surgery, I was told that a prescription would be written for preparation for the procedure.  I asked the medical personnel when my prescription would be filled. They said they would give me a call about that and other details for the surgery.  I then expected a call from either the doctor’s office or the pharmacy. Apparently, the doctor’s office asked the pharmacy to inform me when the prescription was ready.  However, they sent a text message to my home phone, which, of course, couldn’t receive text message.  As a result, I didn’t know the prescription had been called in or filled.

A few days before the scheduled surgery, I called the doctor’s office to check on the prescription and to find out what I needed to know for the surgery.  Also, my notes told me that I had to confirm the surgery time and day.  To my disappointment, I could not reach a person—only voice mail.  I called several times without success.  I left messages asking them to leave a message on my phone with the needed information.  While I was away from home, they called my home and cell phone, telling me to call them back.

Because of my poor hearing, I have trouble conversing on a cell phone, especially when in a noisy place.  Even worse, hearing my phone ring when outdoors or in a noisy place is difficult. They left messages asking me to call back, but when I called back, all I reached was voice mail.  This went on all day (a Friday before my Monday surgery).  I was almost in a panic because I couldn’t find out anything.  I began to believe it was my fault because my hearing made it hard to communicate with them. Also, I was concerned that my bad memory had made me forget important details about my surgery.

Toward the end of the day, I used a different number and finally reached someone.  I found out what I needed to know about my surgery and that my prescription had been filled and was waiting for me.

All’s well that ends well, right?  While no one made a mistake, a combination of circumstances caused me a lot of concern.  So, what’s the answer?

The answer is that medical teams must make a greater effort to communicate with patients, especially older ones with memory or hearing problems, or with other communication issues, such as being weak in technology skills.

The patient is also responsible.  He/she should inform the medical team when instructions are hard to understand, or hear, and discuss how the information is to be communicated (cell phone, home phone, text message, email, letter, office visit, live conversation, etc.).  Had I known when my prescription had been called in, I could have followed up with the pharmacy.  Also, written instructions are usually better for seniors, since they can refer to them if their memory is poor.

Medical/surgical procedures are team efforts, and the patient is part of the team.  If all team members work together and communicate well, then the result is more likely to be satisfying to all.

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About Bill Leavitt


All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Bill Leavitt is a technical writer from Valparaiso. After retiring from a large corporation in Chicago, he did technical writing consulting for many companies. He currently teaches part-time at Purdue University Calumet. You can order Leavitt’s book, “Retirement: Life’s Greatest Adventure,” by sending $16.65 (includes shipping and sales tax) made payable to Write On Technical Writing, Inc., P.O. Box 132,Valparaiso, IN 46384-0132. Or, visit RetirementLifesGreatestAdventure.com for more information.

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