Who to Call When a Patient Is Seriously Ill

When a patient is diagnosed with a serious illness, it's common to feel overwhelmed. How do you begin to help him deal with it? Start by calling these three experts, who can help you map out a care plan for the person in your care.

1. The patient's doctor

OK, this seems obvious. But when you're hit with the news that someone is really sick, it's easy to get caught up in the emotions of the moment. Find time to ask his doctor or medical team for a detailed prognosis of his condition, projecting ahead as far as possible. (Ask the patient for his permission first.) Medical predictions aren't easy, as things change quickly and there are many unknowns. But getting a doctor's take on what lies ahead for the patient, even if it's hunches and best guesses, can help you be prepared.

2. An elder law attorney

Yes, this can be expensive, but consulting with an elder law or eldercare attorney can save money down the line. This professional will examine the person's finances and devise a strategy for using the money wisely -- and making it stretch if need be. Elder law attorneys can also help with end-of-life decisions and estate planning.

To find a good elder law attorney, ask everyone you know and trust for referrals, and check with senior organizations and faith groups. If money is an issue, check with a local legal aid services for attorneys who will work on a sliding scale or pro bono (pro bono means they'll work at no charge for certain clients).

3. A geriatric care manager

If it's affordable, consulting with a geriatric care manager can save money and reduce stress down the line. This manager can do an assessment of the patient's needs and come up with a care plan based on all the pieces, including medical condition, social situation, housing, and finances. Most care managers will work within a budget, giving you the most bang -- or help -- for your buck. They're also experts on resources near the patient's home. To find a good geriatric care manager, check with the person's doctor and friends; family members; churches, synagogues, or other faith groups; and senior organizations in your his community.

Kate Rauch

Kate Rauch has spent more than two decades writing about health for websites and print media, including WebMD, Drugstore, the Washington Post health section, and Newsday, as well as HMOs such as Kaiser Permanente (in the San Francisco Bay Area) and Group Health (in Seattle). See full bio