Monday, April 11, 2005

Sometimes You Need Someone In Your Corner

In an Internet Broadcasting Systems (IBS) article titled "Over-Medication Sickens Seniors," geriatrician Dr. Mary Cohan discusses several problems that I've addressed in previous alerts. For instance, many elderly patients require the care of specialists and end up visiting more than one doctor on a regular basis. When several doctors prescribe different medications, the chances for adverse drug interactions increase, along with the risk of side effects. And here's the disturbing result of that trend: A recent survey revealed that older patients suffering from side effects or adverse interactions account for 20 percent of all emergency room visits. A friend of mine named Jan experienced this very situation with her father who had multiple health problems. In deep frustration, Jan and her family wondered why all of the specialists couldn't get on the same page. It slowly dawned on her that the doctors had no motivation to do so; to each of them her father was just one of many patients who required attention for a few brief minutes at a time. Finally, she and some family members organized and insisted on a joint conference between four different specialists. It was quite difficult to match up their schedules, so the family had to be persistent in scheduling and rescheduling. When the meeting finally took place, two of the doctors realized that some of their prescribed drug therapies needed immediate adjustment. Obviously, her father couldn't have handled this situation on his own. Which brings us to this simple health care tip: Get an advocate. Many patients - especially those who are elderly or who have multiple health problems - need someone to step forward and coordinate their health care. That advocate doesn't need to be a health care professional, they just need to be diligent in asking hard questions, following up on the answers, and making sure that all of the doctors involved are aware of the entire scope of diagnoses, tests, prescriptions, dietary recommendations, etc. Never assume that a hospital or a nursing staff or a doctor's office will do any coordinating of the big picture. Patients with complicated health challenges need an advocate to help do that for them.


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