How can I get the hospital staff to take my concerns seriously?

A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom is currently in the hospital recovering from a knee replacement. She has mild COPD, using just an inhaler, but not routine oxygen at home. Since surgery her pulse oxygen levels have been low (in the mid 80's).

I've expressed concern about this several times to the nurses, the doctor-on-call and the CNA. I don't want to be an alarmist, but I don't feel like my concerns are being taken seriously. I realize they see people in much worse condition than my mom, but these pulse oxygen levels are low for her and I'm terrified they're signifying a problem, or at least a need for continued close evalution.

Can you help me find a way to get through to the medical staff attending to my mom that my concerns are real, this is a change for my her and I feel strongly they need more attention than they're getting. I feel like I must not be communicating effectively or properly. Can you make any suggestions?

Expert Answer

Carolyn Rosenblatt, R.N. and Attorney is the author of author of The Boomer's Guide to Aging Parents. She has over 40 years of combined experience in her two professions. As a nurse, she has extensive experience with geriatrics, chronic illness, pain management, dementias, disability, family dynamics, and death and dying. As a trial attorney, she advocated for for the rights of injured individuals and neglected elders. She is also co-founder of

In asking about communicating effectively with hospital staff, you seem frustrated that they don't seem to be taking your concerns seriously. It may not be that you have failed to communicate well with them. It may also be that they aren't communicating well with you.

You know your mother and what is normal for her better than anyone there. Sometimes when a person is recovering from surgery, the focus is solely on the surgical procedure and the rehabilitation afterwards. The other medical problems a person has are not front and center, and can be overlooked.
First, I would ask the treating doctor at the hospital for a consult for evaluation of your mom by a lung specialist, called a pulmonologist. While mom is in the hospital, it is sometimes easier to access these specialists who can come to her. If you insist and persist, remaining courteous in your requests, you are more likely to get what you want for mom.

If the treating doctor in the hospital is unavailable or doesn't respond to you, you can try your mom's regular MD, letting him or her know your concerns and asking for a referral to a lung specialist to visit her in the hospital. It is easier for a doctor to refer to another doctor than for you to try to find one on your own.

In addition, consider whom you are approaching in the hospital with your worries. The CNA has no authority whatsoever and can't do more than pass on the CNA's interpretation of what you said to someone else. Don't waste your time. Go straight to the registered nurse in charge on your mother's unit and be brief and clear in your request. If that doesn't work, try the head nurse, or director of nursing. Keep going until someone does take your requests seriously.

I suggest that you keep a small notebook with you (or a smart phone) and log in all the people you talk to about your concerns, when you speak to them (dates and times), with their names and titles. The record of how many times you make your request can be important and can help you impress the next person up the "chain of command" in the hospital when you have a complaint about your mother's condition.

Finally, you are mom's advocate now. She is recovering and needs your voice to be there to get the attention of a physician. Keep speaking up, several times a day if necessary, until you get results. Keeping emotion out of your complain is essential. A calm demeanor will get more results than a critical and emotional one.

If she needs further monitoring or treatment, you should be able to find that out from a reliable source with the needed expertise. If she is really ok, and doesn't need anything further, at least you will get that reassurance from a doctor, and can then put your worries aside. Don't rest until you are satisfied that she is getting proper care for her COPD.