Patient advocate: why you need one

Serving as my client’s patient advocate is one of my most heartfelt responsibilities.

Who has your back if you are admitted to the hospital or need to go to the hospital emergency department (ED)?

Have you heard of running a gauntlet? That’s what a trip to the hospital is like. The complexities of medical insurance, patient rights, privacy and confidentiality, liability, computerized medical records, and billing are, at times, overwhelming.

If my client is admitted to a local hospital I go to her bedside. However, if she gets sick away from home I am still her advocate. I stay in regular contact by phone with nurses, hospitalists, discharge planners and family and friends. From hospital shift changes to hospitalist and specialist consults I am a clear and consistent voice.

As an aging society we all need to identify someone that is willing to be our voice, eyes and  ears should we become too sick to advocate for ourselves. We hope never to need a patient advocate, however, the likelihood is we will.

Identify a designated personal representative. Provide current medical information (and that means routine updates as medications, diagnoses and medical conditions change over time). Share copies of insurance cards (and policies!), a list of known allergies (and what the allergic reactions are), surgical and other medical history as well.

In addition to a patient advocate we need a designated healthcare power of attorney (primary and back-up) that is legally authorized to enact our advance directives when we cannot speak for ourselves. Go to the web for standard healthcare power of attorney forms. Click here for the North Carolina Secretary of State’s website to download healthcare power of attorney forms.

Consider the importance of a living will or a Five Wishes document.

Keep HIPAA authorization forms up to date. Healthcare providers need this written consent to share confidential medical information.

As my client’s patient advocate, I:

  1. Maintain a current medications list that is easily accessed in an emergency.
  2. Maintain a current list of known allergies along with the history of reactions.
  3. Keep copies of advance directives to share with first responders and other healthcare providers.
  4. Serve as an informed listener and note-taker at bedside.
  5. Provide contact information for family/friends as appropriate.
  6. Serve as point of contact for medical updates, questions, etc. to relieve patient and family.
  7. Ask “WHY” questions about medical tests, changes in medications and dosing schedules, planned surgeries/procedures, the discharge plan.
  8. Remind myself, healthcare providers, family and friends what my client’s wishes are
  9. Offer another perspective.
  10. And, always, uphold a patient’s dignity and the right to person-centered care.