Healthcare Self-Advocacy for Older Patients

As we get older, it’s natural to find oneself at the doctor’s office more often to manage healthcare issues big and small that can occur in later life.  It can be complicated and sometimes overwhelming to navigate healthcare systems and keep track of insurance paperwork, treatment plans, medications, and communication between different practitioners.  But even if you are a single older adult without nearby family, it is possible to advocate for your own health care and play an active role in the decision-making process. 

According to a recent Washington Post Consumer Reports post, keeping good health records and arriving at appointments prepared with a list of questions is an excellent place to start to become your own best health advocate.  Because office visits can be short, coming armed with a list of questions helps maximize the productivity of patient/doctor interactions.  Maintaining an updated list of medications, supplements and over-the-counter drugs, a full medical history that includes past diagnoses and procedures as well as current symptoms can also help your provider provide the best possible care.  The Oldish has a Medication Checklist available under the Toolkit tab that is available to those with free memberships.

Good communication is essential for advocacy in health care and patients, or a family member or friend, should come to office visits prepared to take notes.  It’s easy to forget details of treatment plans or other next steps.  Be sure to know how to reach your doctor in an emergency and the best way to communicate for non-urgent matters.   Appointing a healthcare proxy who knows your wishes and can make medical decisions for you when you can’t is also key to ensuring appropriate care. 

Because older adults have unique and perhaps different health interests, seniors may wish to consult a geriatrician to ensure their needs and life goals are being met with any care plan.  Before agreeing to a major procedure or treatment, it may be wise to seek a second opinion.  Patients in the hospital can ask for a patient advocacy representative, or hire one privately if they do not have a trusted family member or friend to help make important decisions. 

Being proactive about health care and end-of-life decisions can help older adults take a more active role in their own care.  Preparing a living will or advanced directive can also ensure healthcare providers understand and honour your wishes concerning important medical decisions such as pain management, organ donation, palliative care, life support or resuscitation.  These directives should be made available to your doctor and may be updated following a change in circumstance such as a new diagnosis or change in marital status.