Managing a serious illness or injury is difficult and stressful. There’s a lot of confusing medical terminology to learn. And you must make important decisions throughout the journey that might impact your outcome. Above all, your condition may leave you feeling exhausted and sick. Certainly, all of this makes it hard to manage a serious medical condition by yourself. Will you know what questions to ask? Will you understand medical information? And what if something goes wrong in your care? Who will step in and advocate for you? It’s a good idea to appoint a friend or family to advocate for you or hire a professional advocate. Why? A health advocate can help you better manage your care and health.
In today’s medical environment, doctors and other medical staff must see patients in time-squeezed appointments, making it difficult to have in-depth, meaningful conversations with patients. And many patients don’t know what questions to ask. Furthermore, many patients have a hard time remembering what they hear in the doctor’s office and struggle to understand medical information. Moreover, electronic health records frequently do not communicate with each other, making it harder for doctors to coordinate with each other for patient care. Finally, we should all be concerned that medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death in the US. Add the stress of a serious medical condition to the mix and it’s not hard to understand that patients can benefit from someone advocating on their behalf.
What’s a health advocate?
A family member, trusted friend or professional advocate can act as your “health advocate”. Your advocate can make your life easier by helping you manage your medical condition. Unsurprisingly, a professional advocate has more experience than a non-professional and can therefore provide in-depth help with complicated, serious medical conditions.
How can a non-professional “personal” health advocate help you?
I strongly recommend that anyone dealing with a medical condition find a trusted friend or family member willing to act as a health advocate. However, as you age, it becomes increasingly important to have someone acting as your advocate, even if you don’t have a serious illness or injury.
Although they likely lack professional training and experience, family and friends can help in many ways. On your behalf, they can:
- Attend doctor appointments with you, where they can:
- Ask questions.
- Act as a 2nd set of ears to hear and process medical information.
- Take notes during appointments.
- Help you research and understand medical information.
- Help you make decision treatments.
- Speak up on your behalf.
However, navigating the complex medical world can require more experience and knowledge than most non-professionals possess. Moreover, and this is important, doctors may not take a personal health advocate’s input as seriously as the input from a professional. And in some circumstances, this could lead to dire consequences.
How can a professional health advocate help you?
Professional health advocates, also referred to as patient advocates, are often nurses, social workers, geriatric care managers or other healthcare professionals. They can provide a level of help and support throughout your journey that would be difficult, if not impossible, for a friend or family member to provide.
If you don’t have someone who can act as your personal health advocate, or you have a serious, potentially life-threatening illness or injury, you might want to hire a professional advocate. Additionally, if you are unsuccessful in getting a hospital or doctor to listen to your concerns, hiring a professional advocate may help. Finally, a professional advocate can help reduce your risk of being a victim of a medical error by recognizing threats to your safety and speaking up on your behalf.
Although the services of each health advocate can vary, the services offered may include:
- Helping you understand your diagnoses and treatment options.
- Providing support following a difficult diagnosis.
- Coordinating care for complex medical issues.
- Intervening when doctors fail to listen to the patient and/or family regarding concerns.
- Scheduling tests and appointments.
- Helping you find the right doctors, hospitals and other healthcare providers.
- Coordinating the transfer of medical records, X-rays and lab results.
- Researching long-term care facilities, adult day care and homemaker services.
- Locating inpatient private duty nursing and home health aide services.
- Arranging for home care equipment following discharge from the hospital.
- Arranging hospice for terminally ill patients.
- Straightening out medical bill and insurance claims issues.
Can you obtain advocacy help through your hospital?
Importantly, hospitals have experts who can help with many of the same tasks as professional advocates. Many of these services are free or covered by your insurance, even if you are an outpatient. However, ask about payment so you don’t get an unexpected bill.
Hospitals often, but not always, provide the following advocacy services:
Support from the palliative care team.
A palliative care team can help you understand your diagnosis and treatment options, coordinate your care, arrange for transfers to other care facilities and more. To learn more, read Benefits of Palliative Care.
Your hospital’s discharge planner can help you arrange for transfers to home or other care facilities, arrange for home care equipment, and more.
Medical social workers assistance.
Medical social workers regularly advocate for their patients. For example, their services may include:
- Facilitating communication with treatment providers.
- Educating and providing support regarding a new diagnosis.
- Helping you make health care decisions.
- Helping you follow complicated medication regimens.
- Identifying resources, including other treatment providers, transportation, temporary housing, support groups and visiting nurses.
- Providing information and support around palliative care, hospice care, and end of life issues.
For detailed information on how medical social workers can help you, read How Can a Medical Social Worker Help You?
Comparing hospital-based support versus professional advocates.
Certainly, hospital employees can provide some of the same help as professional advocates, with little or no expense for you. However, there are advantages to hiring a professional advocate.
Firstly, an advocate can help you decide where to receive treatments, which could include other hospitals that have expertise in treating your particular condition. In contrast, those employed by a hospital are unlikely to recommend you go elsewhere for treatment, unless the circumstances demand it. Additionally, if you find that your doctor is not listening to your concerns, an outside professional advocate will likely be able to push harder for your interests than a hospital employee who is a co-worker of the doctor on your case.
Furthermore, you might find it easier to have one person take care of all of your needs. And there are certain tasks that hospital employees will never help with, such as taking notes during appointments. Lastly, not all hospitals have adequate staff to provide the level of support and help you desire.
However, if you’re worried about the cost of professional help, you could hire a professional health advocate to help you with specific tasks only.
One important caveat to understand.
Certainly, hiring a professional advocate, or taking advantage of hospital-based support, does not guarantee you a positive outcome or a smooth journey. However, both types of health advocates can help you get the best care and outcome possible.
A personal story of a game-changing advocate.
When Anne Llewellyn was diagnosed with a brain tumor, her husband felt overwhelmed. He sought help from a nurse advocate, who helped them find experts in a different hospital who had experience with her type of tumor, potentially saving her life. You can read Anne’s story here.
Ready to choose an advocate?
Clearly, a health advocate can help you in many ways. But how to find the right one? Read How to Find a Health Advocate.
A ZaggoCare System makes navigating easier.
Whether you hire a professional advocate, use a personal advocate, or choose to manage your journey yourself, I suggest you purchase a ZaggoCare System. Why? Because our advice and organizational tools, available 24/7, will help you get the best care and outcome possible. It’s a great addition to the support you can receive from an advocate.
For more information, or to purchase a ZaggoCare, click here.
Read these posts for more information:
- Tips for Hospital Discharges.
- 10 Tips to Communicate Better with Doctors.
- Understanding Medical Information Is Harder Than Most Realize.
- How Can You Get the Best Healthcare? Actively Participate!
- Tips to Better Manage a Chronic Disease.
- How to Get the Medical Care You Want.