Female nurse reviewing prescription bottle with senior patient during home visit
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TroveStreet® Wisdom

TroveStreet® Wisdom: Improving interactions with my healthcare team

An 83 year-old man went to the doctor’s office because of pain in his left knee. The doctor responded, “Well, what do you expect? You are 83.” The man replied, “If the pain is because I am 83 years old, why doesn’t my right knee hurt, too?”

An older woman went for her annual checkup with her primary care physician. She noticed the doctor was talking louder and slower to her. The doctor didn’t ask as many questions compared to other visits and assumed something without clarifying it with her. The only thing different about her was the color of her hair: She had stopped coloring it brown, revealing beautiful snow white locks. The woman was shocked at how differently she was treated. 

Healthcare providers can be ageist and not even know it.

Studies show that children begin to form biases as young as 3 years old. These biases can include early beliefs and assumptions about aging and older adults as a whole. When left unchecked, these biases can remain into adulthood. The danger in negative subconscious biases about aging is that those negative views can lead to “aging profiling,” which means viewing all older people as the same. This is far from reality, because no two people age in the same way and there’s no right or wrong way to age.

When healthcare providers and caregivers allow their negative views about aging to manifest, it can lead to conclusions that, at times, can be quite dangerous. For example, It might lead healthcare providers and caregivers to provide:

  • Undertreatment
  • Overtreatment
  • Incorrect treatment
  • Lack of treatment

This is due to an assumption that a symptom is part of advanced aging versus a condition that can and should be treated. Aging profiling can also lead to:

  • Lower expectations of one’s capabilities
  • Speaking extra loudly or slowly
  • Using terms like “sweetie” or “honey” versus the patient’s name
  • Ignoring the patient altogether and speaking directly to the family member or caregiver 

This mindset can also lead to assumptions that patients are unable to make decisions for themselves, are depressed, or sedentary. It can also mean that healthcare providers assume that pain is a natural consequence of aging, yet not all pain is age related.

Establishing a good relationship with a primary care physician is important for your ongoing health. Your doctor can help you with common issues like colds, flu, strains and sprains, and can refer you to specialists when needed. Good communication and teamwork with your primary doctor means you get the tests you need and help in managing any chronic or urgent issues. Being proactive with your health also means you can address potential issues before they become greater concerns.

Here are some tips to help you assemble a team of providers (primary care physician, dentist, and eye doctor) that feels right to you:

  • Decide what you are looking for in a provider. Is the culture of the provider’s office the right fit for you? Are staff smiling, attentive, and pleasant? Do you need to wait a long time before being seen? How far out was the first available appointment? Do you feel rushed when meeting with the doctor? It is okay for you to ask about their professional credentials and approach to healthcare. Make certain it feels like the right place for you. 
  • Ask the provider what they do to stay current on practices related to caring for older people. Geriatricians are primary care doctors who have additional specialized training in treating older patients, but there is a shortage of them in York County. Asking your provider what they do to better understand aging patients is key to your care. 
  • You are the patient. If the provider says or does anything that feels dismissive, ageist, or not right, address it.
  • Don’t skip making and keeping your appointments. Routine visits are necessary to establish your baseline health and to help catch anything in the early stages, before it may evolve into a major health issue.
  • Make a list. Prioritize any health problems or changes in medicines and over-the-counter drugs you are taking before going to the appointment. 
  • Ask why. You need to understand what medicine is being prescribed, the reason it is being prescribed, possible side effects, and what happens if you do not take it. Don’t just agree to take a medication if you don’t understand its purpose or if it doesn’t seem right for you. 
  • Check for understanding. Restate what you heard the provider say to make sure you are in sync. You may want to take a notepad to write down any specific instructions. It can also be helpful to ask a family member or friend to accompany you to the appointment. Be sure to review your after-visit summary at home and follow all instructions and treatments as applicable.
  • Sign up for online access to your health records. Talk to your doctor about signing up for their health system’s online portal. These easy-to-use, secure online sites allow you to access your electronic health records, schedule appointments, send messages to your doctor, read your after-visit summaries, and more. Your doctor’s office staff can help you sign up or gain access if you have difficulties.

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