Breaking up with your physician, someone who’s been there for you for a long time - maybe decades - isn’t easy. It’s awkward and difficult to give up a comfortable relationship with the doctor and his or her staff. This is especially true for our parents, who, in their senior years, are loathe to start anew with someone who doesn’t know them well, and is often young enough to be a grandchild.
Of course, no one wants to change doctors unnecessarily. There's something to be said for a parent's decision to stick with someone who is familiar with their medical history and they feel comfortable with. But is their physician trained in the unique and complex needs of a geriatric population? If so, their expertise can make a huge difference in your parent's health and vitality. If not, it would be wise to discuss finding a new doctor with your parents.
What characteristics should the ideal physician-candidate possess?
First, you want someone whose daily practice includes a large proportion of elderly patients. Taking care of seniors requires a different set of personal skills than is required for a younger generation. Often, as much time needs to be devoted to family caregivers as the patient.
High marks go to doctors with excellent “bedside manners,” and a high quotient of patience. Does he or she bristle when asked questions, or shown research reports culled from an internet search?
The best advice I have found for evaluating physicians for elderly patients comes from Dr. David Bernstein (photo, right) a geriatrician from Tampa, Florida and author of the book "I've Got Some Good News and Some Bad News: You're Old," He’s summarizes five important characteristics to look for in this easy, five-letter acronym called,Q.U.I.L.L.;
Q: Quality of Care
U: Understanding: being treated with dignity and respect
I: Promoting Independence - to live on your own, taking care of yourself, which allows “aging in place.”
L: Listening attentively to your parents. Patient’s loook for the professional who can be a confidant, who provides good eye contact
L: Lean In: Showing a genuine interest and empathy.
Having been a caregiver for a parent with multiple medical needs, I can tell you first hand how helpful and true this physician-evaluation list is. I suggest printing it out and bringing it with you when you accompany your parent on their appointment with their doctor. Do they make the grade? If not, the QUILL list will serve as a good starting point for a conversation with your parent about the need to find a new doctor.
A good place to start your search for a geriatric-certified physician is on the website of the American Geriatrics Society, where you can search by zip code or state to find a doctor near where your parent lives.
Also, don't overlook the importance of a well-run office either. A doctor's support staff who is accustomed to handing the sudden needs of a senior when there's a health "event," can make all the difference to family members when additional help is needed.