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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The High Value of the Unpaid Patient Advocate

Providing health care is complicated. Getting health care is even more complicated. Health care providers strive to provide high-quality, cost-effective care  under challenging circumstances: Physician shortages, rising costs, increasing demands, decreased reimbursement and high expectations- all at a very fast pace. Emergency rooms move patients through a process of ruling out acute emergencies, admitting for ailments which require aggressive treatment, and caring for all others who often get discharged as quickly as possible, to make room for the next patient. Having a family member or friend available to serve as patient advocate helps improve communication and assists doctors and nurses to have a better understanding of what is going on. Advocates can also help reduce stress with hospitalization, prevent errors, help prevent falls, follow the course of treatment, improve understanding, and plan for on-going care needs. Recently, I experienced a bizarre illness which landed me in the hospital for 5 days followed by another 7 days in inpatient rehab. Now, I'm no stranger to hospitals. I've been a nurse for over 20 years with the bulk of my nursing career being at the bedside in the critical care unit. I've seen it all and I've spent numerous hours talking to family members and other advocates at the bedside. Nurses are grateful for the visitors who help care for their patients-alerting them to potential problems, improving comfort and consoling the patient. Today's healthcare trend is patient-centered care. If care is truly centered on the patient then we all need advocates at the bedside, asking the right questions, alerting the staff to potential problems, fluffing pillows, and consoling the weary-eyed, stressed out person in the bed. It makes life easier for the healthcare professional and the patient. While I was a patient, I was disabled by a profound weakness and problems with coordination to one side of my body. I was dependent on a walker to get out of bed. Numerous times the staff would leave after completing their bedside task, not noticing the walker they just pushed away to the side, out of their way and completely out of reach for me.
I would listen to the nurse call bells going off all day as well as the older, male patient next door who screamed out for help in lieu of using the call bell. It was obvious he rarely had a visitor the 4 days I occupied the bed next door. The last thing I wanted to do was push my call button. I pictured the overworked, busy, tired nursing staff trying to answer the call bells, pass trays, answer phone calls, give medications, talk to doctors, solve problems, discuss discharge plans, admit new patients,  the list goes on.
My advocate was my spouse most of the time. But truthfully, my advocate was anyone who would walk in my room to visit. I would find relief in having a friend or loved one there to help me understand the situation, think of questions I might not have considered, monitor my progress from a different perspective, fetch my walker, cheer me up, and best of all, tell the nurse if I needed anything without pressing that annoying call bell.  An advocate can help improve the relationship between the caregiver and the patient by helping explain personality traits and correct any misunderstanding, essentially helping to prvevent errors.  Patients easily become exhausted due to repetitive question and answer sessions as well as coping with their physical problem and mental stress. My advocate was my unpaid hero. An advocate is highly recommended and considered highly valuable when dealing with the consequences of a hospitlization, major illness, traumatic injury, or onset of chronic illness.

Learn more about the role of an advocate.

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