There’s no doubt that a trip to the doctor is enough to scare anybody, young or old, and as one grows older those appointments can become even more intimidating. The issues become more serious, the doctor’s advice becomes more important and making sure everything is understood is of much higher concern.
To help with those experiences, Love Living at Home has announced a program called MedScribe in which volunteers can accompany older people to doctor’s appointments, providing another set of eyes and ears to help record and keep track of all the information typically communicated in one of those sessions. Love Living at Home is a local non-profit whose mission is to provide senior citizens who wish to live on their own with the necessary services to make that possible.
“Regardless of whether someone is part of a village or not, there is a larger conversation about health literacy, and how hard it is to remember what you are told, to walk out with the understanding of what the medications are and their side effects, and when your follow-up appointment should be,” Love Living at Home Executive Director Elena Flash said. “Everybody struggles with that, no matter what stage of life you are or your medical condition.”
The goal of the program is basically to free up the patient to focus on asking certain questions and ascertaining the most valuable information out of their doctor, without having to awkwardly pause to take notes or slow down the process. With someone there to transcribe, the theory is that they’ll be able to more easily engage with their doctor and communicate more effectively about their health.
While they’ve been offering the program for a few months now, Flash said engaging seniors to the point they actually want to participate has been problematic; currently, though they have three volunteers who are all former nurses, nobody has taken advantage of the offer to date (also, there is not necessarily a requirement to be a nurse, Flash said that just seemed like a logical group to start with). There’s a couple reasons for that, but perhaps most paramount is that although the program’s intentions are altruistic, people still feel deeply private about their medical information and broadly would prefer not to have others, particularly someone who isn’t exactly a friend or family member, in the room when crucial information is being discussed, even when confidentiality is guaranteed.
Though actual participation is lacking, Flash said there has at least been positive reaction from those who have heard about the program. Beyond privacy, it can be difficult to get someone who’s lived their lives independently to rely on someone else for the seemingly simple task of going to the doctor (it’s not simple, of course). Breaking through that layer of stubbornness is something Flash is still working on, but at least with volunteers already signed on they will be ready if someone does decide to utilize it.
“In American culture, we have a fierce independence and a belief that it’s not okay to ask for help,” Flash said. “So to get people over that hurdle is a really hard thing to achieve.”
Being an organization that inherently requires people to, in some form, ask for help, Flash said they have found success with more menial matters, such as when someone calls to ask for help with maintenance around the house, or maybe a ride to the grocery store. For the time being,
Despite the program’s slow start, Flash remains optimistic about its long-term validity and usefulness. With a batch of enthusiastic volunteers already in tow, she said the Love Living at Home organization would be reaching out to other service-providing groups in the area to see if any other connections are available -- either to gather more volunteers, or to connect their volunteers with people who need them but might not be involved in Love Living at Home, such as low-income patients for whom an extra person in the room might be beneficial as well.
“We don’t have a goal, we just want to see how it works,” Flash said. “Our volunteers really want to do this, so we’re open to talking to community organizations to either help them bring in volunteers or perhaps get referrals for our volunteers [...] We want to help others in the community do it as well.”