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How To Talk To Your Parent's Doctor

"We're worried about our mom. She has been having dizzy spells and seems to be losing interest in her normal activities. She tells us "everything is fine", but we would like to talk to her doctor about our concern.
How should we do this?"

This is a common dilemma for adult children who are worried about aging parents.  When you see signs that cause concern, it is natural to wonder what is wrong. Often, the senior parent will be "reassuring" or might try to dismiss your concerns.  But your worries don't go away easily. You would prefer to be reassured from the doctor.

Have you tried calling the doctor, and been told that he/she will not see you without your parent present?  Have you asked for a telephone call and been disappointed when you did not connect?

Here are three things to consider if you want to talk to your parents' doctor:

Doctor-Patient Confidentiality
This is the obligation of one person to preserve the secrecy of another's personal information.  A doctor's guiding code of ethics requires them to maintain confidentiality.  When physicians are licensed to practice, they take the Oath of Hippocrates and promise: "Whatever, in connection with my professional service, I see or hear, which ought not to be spoken of abroad, I will not divulge" (abridged).

Confidentiality stems from the therapeutic relationship between patient and doctor.  Patients want to trust that their personal information will be kept private. They want to be able to speak honestly, without worry that their condition or treatment could be revealed to others without their consent.

Right To Privacy
Privacy is the right of individuals to be left alone, and to determine when, how, and to what extent they share information about themselves with others.  But you have the right to share your worry and concern with your parent, and ask if you can come to the next doctor's visit.

Explain what you want to do: for example "I want to help you remember the things you wanted to talk about." Or "I want to ask the doctor about your dizziness." Suggest that having a family member or friend with them can help your parent get the most out of a visit.

Being Your Parent's Advocate
The doctor may appreciate learning more about your parent's problem from your point of view. If you want to advocate for your parent, consider writing the doctor to express your concerns.  But keep in mind that the doctor may still not be willing to share private information with you.  A word of warning: tell your parent you are writing the letter.  Don't expect the doctor to keep it a secret!

The first steps to opening the lines of communication are to help your parent(s) understand the benefits of this information exchange, and to get their consent. If you do meet with the doctor, or have a telephone conversation, be prepared.  Be specific about your concerns and ask:

  • What is wrong?
  • What do I need to know?
  • What can I do to help my parent?

Whether your parent is at home or in hospital, and whether you live in the same city or across the country, establishing a relationship with your parent's doctor can be beneficial for all parties.

Vol.3, No. 17
© ElderWise Inc. 2007.
You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement:

Originally published by ElderWise Publishing, a division of ElderWise Inc. We provide clear, concise and practical direction to Canadians with aging parents. Visit us at http://elderwise.ca/ and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter

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