We've all been there, sitting in the doctor's office in an appointment scheduled weeks or months in advance. You have your list of issues to talk to the doc about, but the list has become a bit longer since you made the appointment. You think, "Maybe I can just squeeze in a couple more questions!" The doctor comes in and asks what you would like to talk about today. You hold up your list with a sheepish grin and the doctor gets a blank expression on their face. They ask again, but this time it's "What's the most important thing you want to talk about today." You get through the appointment and feel satisfied about your doctor's response to the first issue. You're a bit less satisfied about the amount of time and attention they gave to the second. You didn't get to bring up the third or fourth. As you leave the office, you stop at the front desk and schedule another appointment in six weeks for a follow-up and to discuss the rest of your list, but you run the risk of the same thing happening next time.
In Canada, the average GP appointment is ten minutes. Some doctors are able to give you more time, particularly for an annual physical, but on average, appointments are too short to accommodate more than one medical issue. And chances are, if you haven't anticipated their questions in advance, you may have a hard time answering when they ask about your blood pressure history, sleep schedule, medication reactions, or symptom history. If you don't have the data on hand to correctly answer those questions, the doctor's ability to make an accurate diagnosis in the moment can be compromised.
What's more, people will forget 40-80% of what the doctor talked about in the appointment, and of what they remember, chances are that they'll only really understand half.
Then, take all of those problems and compound them with common aging-related issues, such as declining cognitive abilities, reduced short-term memory, and some degree of hearing impairment. If you're an aging adult, the outcome of the appointment is likely to be lower quality than when you were younger. And if you're the caregiver of an elder, and if you're unable to attend the appointment in person, the amount of information you get about the results of the appointment can be slim and much of what the doctor said could be lost in translation.
The truth is, we're all doing our best to get the most out of our healthcare appointments—patients, healthcare practitioners, caregivers—but none of us are getting our needs satisfied. Doctors and other practitioners often don't have the time or data they need, which can end up in misdiagnosis or misprespcribing medication (half of elder Canadians are currently taking at least one inappropriate medication). Elder patients and caregivers are often left with more questions and more anxiety.
The net result is that we could all do better. We need to do better. As patients and caregivers, we need to be more realistic about our doctor's time and ability to dig into more than one or two topics per appointment. We could also be more prepared to answer common medical questions, giving the doctor more to work with in the limited time they have to see us. Healthcare practitioners could do a better job to help patients and caregivers retain and understand feedback and instructions.
It’s a tall order, so how do we accomplish all this?
ElderPRIME is a digital health platform that simplifies and clarifies communication between aging adults, their caregivers, and healthcare providers. By helping elders and their loved ones record, manage, and transcribe health information, medication use, and medical appointments, we hope to mitigate chronic, systemic issues of misdiagnosis, incorrect prescribing, and countless missed opportunities to speed up and improve care of aging adults.
The healthcare appointment is the first and often the only point of communication between the elder, their caregiver, and the healthcare practitioner. As we say in the data world, “garbage in, garbage out.” If we get it wrong in those short ten minutes of the appointment, the results can be disastrous. At ElderPRIME, we’re dedicated to helping us all get it right.
Rob Parker, Founder & CEO, ElderPRIME