There comes a time when it’s necessary to seek medical attention. This is true especially with the elderly. As they become older and their health begins to deteriorate, visits to the hospital are more frequent. At times, elderly patients and their loved ones are not capable of providing the right information to health care professionals and they might not be aware of their rights either. That’s when finding effective health care advocacy becomes essential.
A healthcare advocate can be a friend, a family member, or someone from a private organization who is knowledgeable about laws and procedures in the medical field. However, many patients are unaware of this role and do not consider bringing a health care advocate with them to appointments or medical visits. At Caring People we researched more about health care advocacy and we had the pleasure of getting more insight from an expert in the field, Suzanne Paolucci.
In this article we will cover:
What is Health Care Advocacy?
Health care advocacy is supporting and promoting the rights of patients in the healthcare arena. Health care advocates can support patients when they are literally or figuratively unable to speak for themselves and allows them to focus on their own recovery. They serve as a voice between the patient and health care professionals such as doctors, nurses, and healthcare administrators.
Effective Healthcare Advocacy
Effective Healthcare advocacy requires an extensive knowledge of the laws and regulations in the medical field. Without the right advocacy, patients and their loved ones may find themselves lost in the whole process.
In 2007 Fraenkel and McGraw performed a study where they found five important qualities that health care advocates should live by. These are:
- Patient knowledge: Patients expressed that being informed was important to them so they could fully understand and assimilate the complex information involved.
- Explicit encouragement of patient participation by physicians: Patients wanted participation in their medical or care process through active communication with their doctors.
- Appreciation of the patient’s responsibility/rights to play an active role in decision making: patients emphasized their desire to be informed of their rights and responsibilities.
- Awareness of choice: patients should be made aware that there is a degree of uncertainty in the field of medicine but that choices are always available.
- Time: patients require time to have proper discussions with their doctors.
Following these guidelines can help bring the proper advocacy to patients and help them along their journey in the care process.
Suzanne Paolucci who has been a social worker for over two decades working in the field of geriatrics and life care planning is also the owner of NY Care Consultants. She’s been working on advocacy in the nursing home field and 90% in the management/care market.
Suzanne has a program called “Your Voice” which is a template of how to become a voice for a patient when they lose their own voice. During her research, she interviewed patients to find out what their views were so she could advocate for them if and when the time would come.
In the following webinar, Suzanne tells us about the differences between health care advocacy and geriatric health management as well as the importance of effective health care advocacy.
She explains that an advocate is a voice for patients. “They help families have good conversations with healthcare providers and doctors. It’s good to play a supportive role. Patients are not good advocates.” The fact that patients are usually in a state where they cannot focus on the many details involved in their care is also the reason why they don’t make good advocates for themselves. This is especially true with elderly patients who are suffering from mental illness
Suzanne also highlights the importance of being a champion for her clients’ rights. Many times patients and their families are hearing things they don’t want to deal with and unfortunately nurses or other medical professionals may not know how to communicate the right information to their patients.
She also explains that advocacy is best at times when people are very stressed out. In those situations, she becomes a navigator for the patient and their families through difficult situations. A good advocate knows what the patient is entitled to and how to communicate this.
Suzanne does advocacy at nursing and rehab facilities. She attends the care plan meetings so she can bring up issues that may come up and what the patient is entitled to. She carries a checklist that allows her to make sure that every single aspect of the patient’s rights and needs are being taken care of.
She says there are situations when having an advocate is helpful such as:
- Medical Emergencies
- Medical Appointments
- Managing Chronic disease
- Monitoring Care Providers
- Transitioning into a new care Setting
Choosing a Health Care Advocate
When the time comes to choose the right health care advocate, there are several things to consider. Some hospitals provide patient advocates through geriatric care managers or registered nurses. But when this is not the case, the best advice for someone who is starting to work with a hired advocate is:
- Be clear about your goals and what you expect.
- Help the advocate understand your medical history. Give them access to health records, test results and medications. This may include providing them with permissions to get information from your physicians or health care providers.
- Make sure the advocate is taking notes of conversations with health care professionals. In our resource all Suzanne mentions she carries a checklist with her to make sure that she has a record of every conversation she has with a medical professional from designing the proper care plan to addressing concerns and desires the patient may have.
While your personal health advocate can help if you’re hospitalized, many hospitals also provide patient advocates to assist you. Geriatric care managers, including registered nurses and social workers, often serve as health care advocates.