Top 6 Tips to Be a Patient Advocate
Written by J’Nel Wright
A patient advocate is typically employed by a hospital or nursing home as a free service to patients and their families. The patient advocate is someone who acts on your behalf to handle complaints or concerns and answer questions regarding your care or that of your loved one with your healthcare team. Many family members become their own patient advocates for family members.
“The average appointment time across all specialties is 13-16 minutes,” says Kim Mcilnay. “There’s a lot to accomplish during that short time, and it’s easy for important information to be rushed, or skipped altogether.” With increasing administrative pressure to maximize the number of patients that doctors see in the shortest amount of time, it’s essential for patients to ensure they are getting the best care possible by advocating for it.
Living with a rare form of cancer for over 13 years, patient advocate Amy Regenstreif has learned a thing or two about navigating the often overwhelming healthcare arena. “As I was going through this journey, I realized I had a lot to teach people,” says Regenstreif. A former business leader, Amy now spends most of her time advocating for others and motivating people to better prepare themselves in case they should encounter a medical emergency.
If you find yourself caring for a loved one, Amy shared these six tips for optimizing your role as a patient advocate.
- Have a plan ready before you need it.
Whether you are supporting a loved one or you are the one facing treatment, it’s important to educate yourself on possible treatment options or concerns to discuss with your healthcare provider. The ideal doctor-patient relationship shouldn’t be dictatorial. “If your doctor isn’t open to discussing options or listening to your concerns, it’s time to find another doctor,” she says.
2. Make sure medical coverage is in order.
Admit it: we don’t pay attention to the details of our coverage until we are facing treatment. And that could end up costing us thousands of dollars. In some cases, Amy discovered that a medical coding error has resulted in extra out-of-pocket expenses for patients. Not only do you want to be sure your treatment plan and physician are covered by your insurance, but you want to be sure the care received is accurately recorded. It can be time consuming – but check all your bills and make sure they’re accurate.
- How can I help?
There is power in being willing to do what is necessary to help in your loved one’s treatment. By asking the medical team, “What can I do to help?” sends the message that you are committed and ready to partner with them to help where needed.
- Understand the day-to-day routine.
People are most helpful when they understand the details. Ask about any dietary restrictions, physical limitations, or therapy goals. For example, does the physical therapist expect your loved one to be walking without assistance by a certain date? By being aware of the routine, you can offer support in the areas that will benefit your loved one the most.
- Write it down.
Despite the fact we can remember our old landline numbers or the birth dates of every one of our children and grandchildren, it is possible to forget important details concerning your loved one’s care. “A pen and paper are some of your best tools for supporting a loved one’s treatment,” says Becca Lund, RN, MDS at Pointe Meadows Health and Rehabilitation. ”Doctors understand that they are sharing a lot of information, so they encourage you to write things down.” Distractions are common, so take notes about medication schedules, possible symptoms to watch for, or any questions or changes that may come up that need to be discussed with your team.
- Is this normal?
If your loved one is recovering at home, you become the eyes and ears for him and the healthcare team. Although some phases of recovery may seem alarming, irregular, or downright messy, it’s important to note any changes. “Don’t be afraid to mention everything,” says Regenstreif. “Are there changes in mood, appetite, or pain levels?” What may seem random to you could be an important indicator to your doctor.
Good health is a blessing worth fighting for. “Any illness is like a business,” says Regenstreif, who continues her fight for a full recovery. “So you should treat it like a business.”
J'Nel Wright is a freelance writer and editor who specializes in topics concerning health and wellness, aging, caregiving, humor, travel and business. Her work has appeared in a variety of regional and national publications. Her educational background includes a bachelor's degree in English and Social Work. She has traveled throughout Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, French Polynesia, Mexico and much of the United States. She is a full time writer.