When dealing with illness or hospital stays, communication between patients, family members, friends, doctors and nurses is tiring and confusing. A patient advocate can provide much-needed assistance during this stressful time.
A patient advocate can:
- Act as the mediator between the patient and the hospital or healthcare team
- Serve as the patient’s primary spokesperson
- Communicate wishes and requests on the patient’s behalf
- Help set up visits with friends, family and others
- Complete paperwork
WHN TIP – Advocate on Staff: A patient advocate doesn’t have to be a family member – many hospitals have patient advocates on staff so ask about this option. However, it’s still a good idea to have a primary family contact for communication.
Here are a few helpful tips from fellow caregivers, doctors and nurses regarding what to do if you’re an advocate.
Get prepared before heading to the hospital.
Set up a binder, log or diary, and include items such as:
- Bills, paperwork, receipts. (Note: advocates can also meet with the hospital’s billing officers to discuss finances.)
- Important contact numbers (family, friends, insurance agent, primary physician, health care providers, attorney)
- Insurance information/card
- Legal documents (living wills, health care directives)
- List of medications and supplements
- Personal health history and records of tests, procedures, treatments
- The names and titles of the patient’s health care team, contact details and who to contact when off-duty
Prefer digital files? Create a folder on your computer where you can save your scanned notes, any emails or digital reports or any other health information.
Take notes and ask plenty of questions.
- Use a notebook to write down your questions and the answers you receive, with dates and the name of the person who addressed your questions and concerns.
- Write down the name of every healthcare provider who comes into the room, along with the date and reason for the visit. This will be invaluable when the bills start coming in.
WHN Expert TIP — Learn the Lingo: Learn to speak “hospital”- even just a little. “Machines have names. So do nurses. Calling people and things by their right name supports speedy and compassionate care.” Jari Holland Buck, author of the Hospital Stay Handbook
Designate advocate “helpers” (family members and/or friends) to give you a break or handle tasks such as:
- Help with tasks outside the hospital: lawn care, child care, food preparation and so on.
- Help the nursing staff. “There is a tremendous shortage of nurses at the moment,” says Buck. “Many things can be done by a visitor to assist the nurse such as securing bedding, running errands for the staff or patient, filling water pitchers, assisting with patient food intake, notifying the nurse when alarms sound (do NOT touch the equipment!), securing supplies, etc.”
WHN TIP – Set Up Shifts: Setting up a schedule or having people take shifts can really make a difference.
Establish a method for updating the family.
- Tape-record each doctor’s visit (ask first if it’s okay) as well as your questions, and then transcribe the main developments in an e-mail to appropriate family and friends.
- Create a Caring Bridge site (a free online social networking tool for patients and families) so the family only needs to share news one time, when it’s convenient for them.”
WHN Expert TIP – Designate a Spokesperson: Dr. Sharon Langshur, co-founder of CarePages (now closed), recommends having one person be in charge of passing on information provided by the advocate.
Take care of yourself.
- Get enough sleep and food.
- Ask for help when you need it.
- Take a break now and then.
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