When Aging Parents Are Unwell (1 of 3): Who’s who on the healthcare team

Posted by on Jun 27, 2021 in Health Care Team and System | 0 comments

Originally published in the Lifespeak newsletter, January 2009.

Compared to the younger population, seniors are more likely to use the health care system, including visits to the doctor’s office, medical clinics, the emergency room, and hospitals. Many older persons also require home care provided by the local public health services. During each encounter, senior sand family members will meet a variety of health care professionals. It can be confusing to figure out:

  • Who is the best person to ask about problems or concerns?
  • What role do these people play?
  • Should we ask for professionals who are specialized in the care of older adults? 

The following list identifies the most common health providers that you and your parents are likely to encounter in a hospital or in a community setting. When you meet these providers, ask for their name and their role. This might help you to know who to contact when you have questions or concerns. 

Case Manager
A case manager is a professional (often a registered nurse or social worker) who oversees the assessment and planning for care and services for an individual. Some Geriatric Case Managers can be hired privately on a fee-for-service basis.

Discharge Planner
A discharge planner is an individual who works in a hospital and assists patients to connect to healthcare services in the community following a hospital stay.

Home Care Coordinator (Community Care Coordinator)
A home or community care coordinator is a health professional who assesses and oversees the home care services that are provided to a client at home or in a community program. The coordinator determines eligibility for the services and then assigns the patient’s care to the most appropriate member of the team.

Home Health Aide (Personal Care Aide)
A home health aide or personal care aide is an individual who provides personal care: bathing, dressing, grooming, and assistance with eating. These aides may assist with rehabilitation; helping with range of motion exercises and other exercise programs under the direction of a professional such as a physiotherapist. The education of these workers is not standardized. In facility settings, this worker may be called a nursing attendant or assistant.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Registered Practical Nurse (RPN)
A licensed or registered practical nurse is a graduate of an approved education program and registered with the provincial college that governs the profession. The LPN/RPN provides care as part of the health care team in hospitals, long-term care, and community programs. They administer medications and perform some nursing procedures.

Registered Nurse (RN) and Nurse Practitioner (NP)
A registered nurse is a professional who assesses a patient’s condition and makes decisions regarding appropriate nursing interventions. RNs can respond to complex situations involving patients with acute and chronic illnesses, deliver health education programs, and provide consultative nursing services to promote, maintain, and restore health of individuals and families.

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with advanced training in health assessment, health promotion, and illness prevention. NPs diagnose and treat health problems, order and interpret diagnostic tests, and prescribe drugs. 

A pharmacist is a professional trained in the art and science of pharmacy. In some provinces, under certain conditions, pharmacists can prescribe medications.

Should we ask for specialists?
When older adults experience illness, they may need specialized care because of the complexities in diagnosis and treatment. Many health professionals have specialized education or experience in geriatrics or gerontology.

Geriatrics is the study, diagnosis and treatment of common diseases associated with aging.

Gerontology refers to “the study of elders” and includes the physical, mental, and social aspects of a senior’s life.

In hospital: Ask for a geriatrician or a physician with special interest in caring for older adults. These physicians can sort out whether the problems are caused by the disease, by the treatment, or are related to the aging processes.

In a community program: Ask for a Certified Gerontological Nurse or Nurse Practitioner. These nurses have written national certification exams to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. As part of the health care team, their focus includes avoiding the dangers of over-treating as well as under-treating chronic and acute health problems in older adults.




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