The COVID-19 pandemic has given me a gift this winter: spending more time with my parents. We decided they would stay in Rhode Island, rather than spending the October-May timeframe in Florida, as they usually do.
In our little pod, we have been able to continue our holiday traditions and to develop some new ones along the way, such as adding Scungilli salad with warmed Italian Bread to our Christmas Eve menu. (Someday, I’ll share the story about my Irish husband’s experience on Federal Hill on Christmas Eve 2020, picking up the Scungilli Salad and the Italian cookies we just had to have!)
Having my parents nearby this winter has also given me the opportunity to follow up on some long-backburnered items surrounding their healthcare and to get myself more organized on that subject. (I tease them all the time that they are my favorite non-paying clients!)
Read on for some of the steps I have taken, along with suggestions for how you, too, can improve in these areas.
Of course, I jumped on the first opportunity to get them vaccinated. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful at our first go-round: having a permanent residence in one state while trying to obtain a vaccine in another proved to be problematic.
Despite my skill and experience in managing healthcare-related obstacles, I had no choice but to walk away from a pharmacy receptionist who said she was just following the rules, and who was unable to see beyond them. Fortunately, we were ultimately successful in getting both my parents vaccinated five days later.
The lesson here is that while it is important to persist (always with politeness), there are times when it makes more sense to walk away and regroup.
Even as a professional in this field, I don’t always succeed initially at getting done what I know is in the best interest of the healthcare consumer. Tremendous patience is often required.
Ordering a New Hearing Aid
One unanticipated downside of constant mask-wearing is that older adults with behind-the-ear hearing aids are losing these (unknowingly) at epidemic proportions as they take the masks off. Mom was no exception.
One would think replacement would be easy. But for us, the process involved no fewer than 15 phone calls to the following:
- The physician’s office (9 calls)
- The insurance company
- The insurance company’s new hearing center
- The second provider where the hearing aid will be purchased
We’ve now had three separate appointments, some during snow events, and finally, the new hearing aids are on order.
In this case, the lesson is the importance of utilizing post-provider surveys. When I saw one of these in my in-box, I seized the opportunity to provide polite and constructive feedback on the experience, stating honestly that I would not recommend them to others.
Fortunately, I received a call from the Practice Manager and we had a wonderful conversation. She appreciated my feedback, responded professionally, helped problem-solve and, to her credit, altered my perception of the practice. Most important, she helped facilitate the process from there.
Managing Patient Portals
My parents have primary care and specialist physicians in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Florida. Each of these offers its own Patient Portal.
One day, after spending an hour trying to find a particular medical record so that my dad would not have to repeat a diagnostic test, I decided it was time to get these organized. I was shocked: there were a total of 12, each with its own username and password!
With some effort, I now have them organized in one file along with new copies of both their Original Medicare ID Card and their Medicare Advantage ID Card, both of which were requested when they had their COVID-19 vaccine.
Taking Multiple Medications
It’s not unusual for older adults to have numerous prescriptions, over the counter medications, and prescribed supplements. A phenomenon we often encounter is an eventual reluctance on the part of an older adult to consistently take these medications.
Sometimes it’s because swallowing has become difficult. But more often than not, it’s simply because they have tired of “taking so many pills.” So they just stop. Unnoticed, this can contribute to a crisis and even a hospitalization.
Here are some ideas:
- Create an accurate list of all medications, listed in order of importance
- Ensure that all are necessary and that drug interactions are not occurring. Ask the primary care physician to conduct a medication reassessment
- Among those that are most important, create a schedule for when they should be taken throughout the day
- Investigate if some can be taken in a different form, such as a liquid or a transdermal patch, or if they can be crushed and taken with an enjoyable food, such as applesauce, jam, pudding, etc.
- If you are living with the individual and you take medications, take them at the same time, so you can model the behavior
- Be sure you develop a way to monitor compliance and adjust accordingly
Organizing Paper Files
Despite all my parents’ patient portals, I still rely on paper files to manage multiple competing priorities and to help facilitate communication among healthcare providers. In the past, I used a three-ring binder in chronological order. My new filing system includes a different file folder by specialty. Here are some of my mom’s:
- Primary Care
- Pulmonologist/Sleep MD
- Otolaryngologist/Hearing Aid
- Physical Therapist
- Patient Portals
The lesson here is that while there are any number of ways to keep medical information organized, the “best” approach is the one that works for you.
As we continue through these winter months of the pandemic and find ourselves missing the activities we usually rely on to get us through to spring, please look for the silver linings in your life.
More time with those you love, completing projects you’ve put off for a long time, and organizing your healthcare or that of a loved one, can all be incredibly gratifying.