The Role of a Patient Advocate – How to Select the Right One for You
A time of illness is a stressful time for patients, as well as for their families. The best-laid plans can go awry and the stress can impair judgment. To put it simply, you are not at your best when you are sick. Patients need someone who can look out for their best interests and help navigate the confusing healthcare system. In other words, they need an advocate.
What is a Patient Advocate or Health Navigator?
A patient advocate or a health navigator is a “supporter, believer, sponsor, promoter, campaigner, backer, or spokesperson.” It is important to consider all of these aspects when choosing an advocate for yourself or someone in your family. An effective advocate is someone you trust who is willing to act on your behalf, as well as someone who can work well with other members of your healthcare team like your doctors and nurses.
An advocate may be a member of your family, such as a spouse, a child, another family member, or a close friend. Another type of advocate is a professional advocate. Hospitals usually have professionals who play this role called Patient Representatives or Patient Advocates. Social workers, nurses and chaplains may also fill this role. These advocates can often be very helpful in cutting through red tape. It is helpful to find out if your hospital has professional advocates available, and how they may be able to help you. If not, you may contact Values Based Patient Advocates for advice where to turn for help in your situation and area.
Finding and Using a Friend in Your Time of Need – How Can a Patient Advocate Help You?
Select a person with whom you can communicate well, and whom you trust. It’s important to pick someone who is assertive and who also has good communication skills. Make sure that the person you select is willing and able to be the type of advocate that you need. Decide where you want help and where you wish to go it alone.
For example, you may want help with the following:
- Clarifying your options for hospitals, doctors, diagnostic tests and procedures or treatment choices
- Getting information or asking specific questions about procedures
- Writing down information that you receive from your care providers, as well as any questions that you may have
- Assuring that your wishes will be carried out if you are temporarily incapacitated due to illness or a serious surgery
How Can a Patient Navigator Help You Navigate the Health Care Labyrinth?
Here are some questions to ask your prospective advocate to determine if he or she is a good fit for your needs:
- Can the prospective patient navigator help you make treatment decisions through additional research?
- Can the prospective patient navigator help monitor any change in your condition through frequent home visits or even staying with you as a live-in caregiver for a while?
- Can the prospective patient navigator pickup test results for you and ask clarifying questions on your behalf?
- Can the prospective patient navigator help you to keep track of medications?
- Can you trust the prospective patient navigator to let your physician and others caring for you know and operate within your best interests?
- Do you share similar likes and tasted with your prospective patient navigator? The more you like and trust each other, the more your mind will be at peace.
- If you trust your prospective patient advocate navigator, then you may wish to consider giving him or her the medical power of attorney on your behalf, especially if you have family strains or don’t have anyone close enough you can trust with making medical decisions on your behalf should the need arise.
- If you choose to give your patient advocate the medical power of attorney, does everyone else in your family know this important detail? Communicating this important detail will provide a consistent communication link for your caregivers and can help to minimize confusion and misunderstandings within your family.
- And lastly, now that you have carefully selected and trust your calm, reliable, wise patient health navigator, have you made sure your doctor(s) and nurses have your advocate’s phone number? And does your advocate have the numbers for your providers, hospital and pharmacy, as well as anyone else you may want him or her to contact in the case of an emergency?
Consider putting your advocates number into your phone and important medical paperwork as your ICE (in case of emergency) contact for the benefit of emergency personnel.
Learn more at the National Patient Safety Foundation here.
We hope these tips serve you by helping you to be that much more prepared and safer during your next trip to the doctor or hospital. Being prepared isn’t just a boy or girl scout motto. It’s a worthwhile adage for life.