Do You Know Who Is a Patient Advocate?

When illness strikes or a medical need arises it is often suggested that a patient seek out an advocate. However, for many people their first response to this prompting is “Who Are Patient Advocates? What do they do?” and “Why would I need a patient advocate when medical caregivers are sworn to do no harm?”

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines the term advocate as a person who is a supporter or a defender, one who argues for a cause; a person who pleads on another’s behalf.

A patient advocate is an intercessor who speaks on the behalf of the patient, and at times the patient’s family. A patient advocate can be a professional or he or she can be a family member or friend of the patient. The purpose of this designated advocate is to make sure that the patient’s best interests are addressed, and then met. Further, this person is to be an ongoing source who directs the patient as he or she navigates the entire healthcare system, including but not limited to primary care providers, hospitals, treatment options, pharmaceutical needs, and any host of other concerns that a patient has throughout the treatment process.

Facing a doctor’s visit, ongoing treatment or a hospital stay, a patient may find themselves quickly overwhelmed and difficult challenges, particularly if they are navigating the healthcare process on their own. Whether the patient is embarking on a medical quest for information about their health or facing a medical crisis, an advocate will prove to be an important member of the patient’s healthcare team.

An advocate can be a family member or close friend, or can be a social worker provided by a hospital or a even specifically trained professional. No matter who the patient chooses to have as his or her advocate it is important that the advocate be a person that the patient feels at ease with, and with whom they feel they can openly share their needs or concerns.

There’s a long list of services health advocates might provide including:

  • Knowledge and understanding of the patient’s medical history, and medical needs
  • Track all medications which have been taken, and are newly prescribed
  • Keep records of the patients’ questions, the medical caregivers’ answers and any instructions which may be given to the patient.
  • Translate any information that the doctor, or the staff, gives that the patient does not understand
  • Make sure that the patient’s needs are recognized and then addressed to the patient’s satisfaction by the medical staff
  • Be on hand at all appointments, treatments or hospital stays if the patient is unable to adequately communicate

The most important attribute in a patient and his or her advocate’s relationship is communication. A patient first must decide what he or she wants and needs from a Patient Advocate. Once ongoing communication between patient and advocate is established all those involved in the caregiving process need to be informed of who the patient advocate is – this is required whether the advocate is a family member, an employed advocate or social worker. Everyone from medical professionals to pharmacists, from the nurses and the doctors, and other treatment specialists should be made aware that an advocate will be working in tandem with the patient and should be given any and all pertinent information regarding the patient’s case. With this relationship established the patient will be on their way to more personalized care.