How to Be a Hospital Advocate

Three Methods:Collecting Information for the PatientCommunicating with and on Behalf of the PatientMaking Life Easier for the Patient

Navigating the complex world of hospitals and medical treatment can be challenging under the best of circumstances. When someone is seriously ill, the situation can become even more difficult. For this reason, some people choose to hire a professional patient advocate (also called a hospital advocate) to speak on their behalf and help guide them through the decisions involved in treating whatever condition they may be suffering from.[1] If you have a loved one who has been hospitalized, you can fulfill this role yourself. If you are a well organized, assertive, and caring person, you can help a friend or family member as his or her advocate.

Method 1
Collecting Information for the Patient

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    Do some background research. The more familiar you are with the health care system, the insurance system, and the specific medical condition your loved one is grappling with, the more effective you can be as an advocate.[2]
    • For example, take some time to learn how the hospital bureaucracy works. What is the "chain of command?" Who does your loved-one's doctor or medical team report to?
    • Learn about the patient's health insurance policy and/or Medicare aid. Look into the process of appealing when aid is denied.[3]
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    Collect the patient's medical documents. Gather all relevant documents related to your loved-one's hospitalization and treatment.[4] This might include test results, explanations of benefits, bills, and prescriptions.
    • Keep all these records in one place and organized in such a way that you can find whatever you might need to reference later. Keep the same types of documents together, and organize them by date.
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    Take notes. Keep a journal or notepad handy at all times. Make notes every time you talk to the doctor or other health care professionals.[5] These sessions can be very brief, but contain a lot of information, so keeping track of it all for later later reference can be helpful.
    • Make note of who you've spoken to and what everyone says.[6] Your loved one may be seen by several different doctors and nurses. Record all their names. This will make it much easier to have conversations later about the recommendations or information provided by each physician.
    • Make sure to note the date of every conversation as well.[7] Then if you have a question about something you've been told, you can be specific, i.e. "Last Wednesday you told me X, but now you're telling me Y instead. What has changed since last time we spoke?"

Method 2
Communicating with and on Behalf of the Patient

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    Help keep the patient grounded. Long hospital stays can be disorienting and confusing, especially for the elderly. Talk and read to the patient in calm, soothing tones. Answer his or her questions in a clear but reassuring manner.[8]
    • Long hospital stays can promote the onset of delirium, a severe state of disorientation or confusion that can make it difficult for someone to think, rest, or follow directions.[9] This condition is made even more likely by certain narcotics that may be used to relieve pain, such as Haldol.[10] If you suspect the onset of delirium, contact hospital staff and ask what assistance they can provide.
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    Present information and options to the patient. One job of the advocate is to act as an intermediary between the doctor and the patient. Chances are, you will end up collecting a lot of very complex information about the patient's condition and treatment options. Help clarify the information and treatment options.[11]
    • Keep in mind that this situation may be very overwhelming for the patient, and there is a lot to keep track of. Don't talk down to the patient, but do present things in as straightforward a manner as possible.
    • Avoid medical jargon and other technical language when possible.
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    Find out what the patient wants. Make sure you know what the patient wants, both from you and in terms of treatment. You can only be an effective advocate if you have a clear understanding of your loved one's desires.
    • Depending on the severity of the health issue, the patient may or may not feel up to communicating his or her desires to doctors and other medical staff.
    • Part of this process may involve helping the patient weigh his or her options to make the best decision for treatment.[12] Being familiar with the patient's values and belief systems can be important, especially if his or her condition is life-threatening.
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    Look into advance directives. It is a good idea to find out if the patient has an advance directive. This is a document that provides the hospital with instructions as to what should be done if he or she becomes incapable of expressing his or her desires.
    • This might include specific instructions, such as a desire not be put on life support if brain death occurs. Or, it may include instructions to designate a certain person as responsible for making decisions on the patient's behalf (a proxy directive, also called "durable power of attorney").[13] Ideally, if there is a proxy directive, it should designate you, the advocate, as the patient's proxy.
    • If the patient does not have an advance directive, it may be a good idea to encourage him or her to complete one, and to help the patient through this process. The paperwork for an advance directive varies from one state to the next, and can be found online.[14]
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    Communicate the patient's questions and concerns to the doctor. It is your responsibility to ensure that any questions or concerns the patient has are conveyed to the doctor. This is especially true if he or she feels incapable of or reluctant about asking questions.[15]
    • Ask for clarification when necessary. Doctors and hospitals, for example, use a lot of acronyms. If a doctor is talking in jargon you don't understand, ask him or her to explain things in simpler language.[16]
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    Speak assertively on the patient's behalf. Your most important role as advocate is to make sure the doctor and other hospital staff understand and follow the patient's wishes. This will require you to be clear and politely assertive.[17]
    • Use plain language to tell the doctor what the patient's desires are.
    • Ask questions about follow up treatments, next steps, and what will happen as a result of different test outcomes. For example: "if this test is positive, what are our options?"[18]
    • Get a second opinion if necessary. If your loved one wants a second opinion, or what the doctor is telling you doesn't seem right based on the information you've gathered, be direct about asking for and seeking a second opinion.[19]

Method 3
Making Life Easier for the Patient

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    Help with medication regimens. For serious health conditions, the number of medications a patient must sometimes take can be overwhelming. As an advocate, you can help your loved one by keeping a list of which medications he or she is taking.
    • Make note of which medications should be taken at what time. Provide reminders or any other assistance the patient may ask for to ensure medications are taken on schedule.[20]
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    Do the paperwork. You can also help your loved one by taking care of necessary paperwork for him or her. This will be one less thing weighing on his or her mind during this stressful time.
    • This could include forms and paperwork from the hospital itself, as well as insurance documents and applications for employer-provided benefits.[21]
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    Watch for errors. Hospitals can be chaotic places, and errors by doctors, nurses and other staff are common. This problem is especially pronounced in the administration of medication.[22]
    • Make sure your loved one is receiving the correct medication in the correct dose, and that he or she does not have an allergy to anything the doctor has prescribed.[23]
    • Take special note of any new medications, and ask questions about how long and when the medication should be taken, as well as what side effects it might cause.[24]
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    Provide other services as needed. An advocate is often asked to take on a variety of other tasks. This could be anything from transportation to caring for pets.[25]
    • Take on any task that the patient asks you to and that you are comfortable and capable of carrying out. Ask regularly what you can do to help. There may be many ways you can provide help that you haven't thought of yet.

Tips

  • Remember that you and the patient have rights. You deserve to have respect, confidentiality, and assistance. Ask for the doctor to explain any confusing medical terms or procedures. If you feel something is not right, ask to see another doctor for a second opinion.

Warnings

  • Though you may feel like screaming at the hospital personnel at times, try to remain calm, but firm, about your loved one's needs. Be persistent. Remember that the person you are advocating for already feels life is out of control so you don't want to contribute further to that feeling.
  • Being a patient advocate can be emotionally draining.[26] Make sure you are up to the task before taking on these responsibilities, and take good care of yourself while you are in this role.

Sources and Citations

  1. https://www.verywell.com/how-to-become-a-patient-advocate-or-navigator-2614922
  2. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/04/22/working-in-retirement-how-to-be-a-patient-advocate/2/#ec688843e5ff
  3. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/04/22/working-in-retirement-how-to-be-a-patient-advocate/2/#ec688843e5ff
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Categories: Health