Working with doctors long-distance

It can be challenging to stay on top of a relative’s medical needs when he or she lives far away. Success depends on three factors: information, cooperation, and communication.

Information is essential. Learn the basics about each disease affecting your family member. This way you can understand the doctor and ask good questions. Know the symptoms and how they affect daily living. Is there any way to prevent or minimize problems? Find out about treatment options and the likely course of the illness. See our past article about researching health treatments online.

Cooperation from your relative is key. The doctor can’t give you information without your family member’s consent. Assuming your relative welcomes your participation, have him or her sign a HIPAA release and any other papers the providers require for you to access medical records. Keep copies of this paperwork for yourself.

Communication with the doctor may take many forms.

  • Office staff can be very helpful. They may be able to answer your questions. Know the members of the team by name. Say “thank you!” for their assistance.
  • Ask if you can correspond with the doctor via email. Many healthcare systems offer secure messaging or Patient Portals.
  • Review online medical records. If they are available to patients, ask your loved one if you can have his or her login information.
  • Attend appointments as often as you can. In person, if you are in town. Or virtually, via cell phone. (Your relative can call from the exam room and put you on speakerphone.) You might want to arrange a separate follow-up call with the doctor, which you may need to pay for yourself (not covered by Medicare). Or consider hiring a care manager as an advocate. He or she can accompany your loved one and keep you current on recent decisions.

Keep a health “diary” with up-to-date notes on your relative’s health events, doctors’ recommendations, and medications.