Someone should write A Seniors’ Guide to Health Care! It should be compulsory reading for everyone. Especially for those of us who are actually seniors. And for people who care about us. And for those who will one day be past the first flush of youth. No such document exists, as far as I can tell. I might have to write it myself.
Health care for older people has come a long way over the years. We are lucky in Australia to have a health care system that works. Well, most of the time. On the whole, health professionals are competent and conscientious. Hospitals provide expert care.
I started thinking about this after a recent visit to an after-hours general practice clinic. My symptoms were typical of shingles. But the general practitioner did not know me. She did not listen and declined to give me antiviral medication. As a result, I was much sicker for weeks than I needed to be.
As a rule, general practitioners and specialist doctors show keen interest the welfare of their older patients. So do nurses and other health professionals. But not always.
The health system can be a dangerous place for seniors. A Senior’s Guide to Health Care would point out the possible dangers. We could avoid them.
We all know about home invasions, muggings, traffic accidents. We know about elder abuse from those we should be able to trust. But until the Seniors’ Guide to Health Care is available, we seniors should be alert, for ourselves and for others.
The illnesses of older people are sometimes serious. But our aches, pains and minor complaints are often just plain boring.
Who wants to listen to an account of some old person’s peristaltic movements? Who needs to suffer through the vagaries of someone else’s swollen fingers and wonky knees? Even accidents and shingles have limited value in conversation.
When we must talk about our health, we assume we can trust the health professionals we confide in. We hope that emergency departments, general practitioners and those they refer us will listen intelligently to what we say. We presume they will treat us like everyone else, take our health issues seriously and respond appropriately.
Hospitals and doctors who did not listen have caused havoc recently in the lives of some my seventy-plus friends. They are articulate people, past retirement age. Two are still in the workforce. They tell me doctors did not listen to them. Disregarded symptoms. Did not properly investigate complaints. Declined to refer on for second opinions.
Economists tell us that seniors put a strain on the health care system. They say old people cause cost hikes, They say these will only get worse. In the case of my friends, the additional cost to the economy was not because of the age of the patients. It was because of the inadequacies of the health care system. They did not receive the timely treatment they needed. Their recovery was compromised, prolonged. It was much more expensive than it should have been.
Under normal circumstances, these four people are usually well able to stand up for themselves and their rights. Made vulnerable by injury and illness, they had little chance of a fair hearing or adequate assessment. A Seniors’ Guide might have helped them.
There are a number of steps we can take to improve the lot of older people in the health care system.
A Seniors’ Guide to Health Care might include
Instructions about how we could
- Support each other;
- Speak out whenever we witness poor care;
- Enlist the support of our children and friends in advance;
- Teach our children how to advocate on our behalf if they see us vulnerable in the health system;
- Invite someone we trust to attend health care appointments with us;
- Change to another doctor if we aren’t satisfied that they are listening and responding;
- Ask for a second opinion;
- Consult health advocacy services;
- Complain to hospitals that provide poor care. This is helpful for the hospitals because, when we point out that their services have not met our expectations, they receive information that helps them to review and change policies and practices.
- We can write to our members of parliament and ministers for health.
Perhaps a Seniors’ Guide to Health Care could help change our health care system.