Friends and family have been advocating for loved ones when ill for many years, but the concept of professional patient advocacy is relatively new. To understand more about what a patient advocate is and does, check out our article “What is a Patient Advocate?“. The question we’re addressing today is if a professional patient advocate can actually contribute to the treatment and healing process. After hearing from several Aging Wisely clients and families, ” you saved my life” and “without you, Mom would not have made it through this health crisis”, we thought we would explore the role of patient advocates in outcomes of treatment.
The role of a professional patient advocate often begins when someone gets a diagnosis or is going through the process of exploring treatment and is faced with a long road ahead. Typically a patient and family are looking for support and assistance with certain issues that have arisen. Many times the advocacy role starts with helping the patient find the most appropriate treatment options.
Because care management is holistic in nature, this starts with understanding the client’s situation beyond the diagnosis. What are the goals and desires of the client? What other health issues and frailty exist? What type of support does the person have? What issues will there be in practical, day-to-day life (managing medications, nutrition, getting around the home safely, getting to follow up appointments)? What social, spiritual and emotional issues is the person facing? How does the family feel? What family is involved and what conflicts might exist? On a more practical level, the care manager also looks at issues like costs, insurance and paperwork. Does the person have insurance to cover treatment at the desired providers? What other benefits or programs can help? Can the person afford medications and follow up treatment? Does the client have legal paperwork in place? The care manager then goes in to advocacy mode to find appropriate solutions to any issues that exist…thus clearing the path for treatment and healing.
Another major aspect of patient advocacy is helping to ensure patients and families have the necessary information. While informed consent is considered a basic part of today’s ethical medical practice, the level of “informed” varies. Patients may have different levels of “health literacy” and may feel too ill to advocate for themselves as they once would have done. Some practitioners may speak in medical terminology and may also be focused on outcome when a patient may have concerns about process and quality of life that are not addressed.
During the treatment process, the care manager continues to follow up with all of the areas listed above, but also helps to ensure continuity of care. This is particularly essential during treatment, as the advocate coordinates providers and sets up follow up so the patient and family can focus on getting well. During treatment for any diagnosis, most patients are also dealing with other chronic illnesses or diagnoses which need to be monitored. The person may see changes to overall health and other treatments may be affected while dealing with a new illness. Additionally, practical matters are important in the healing process. A patient may be receiving chemo at a treatment center or may have surgery and then some rehabilitation…but what happens at home after these treatments can really impact long-term health and healing. Is the person eating properly (and following any special diet required)? Is the person safe or at risk for falls or accidents? Does the person need help changing dressings or doing other follow up care? The list of what needs to be assessed (and addressed) goes on and on. A professional patient advocate has the experience to anticipate these issues and find solutions.
So, what do you think? Does the patient advocate play a vital role in healing? Is treatment about more than having the best specialist in the world and the latest protocol? There doesn’t appear to be any clinical data out there on the subject yet, though many patients and families have examples to share (we’ll be sharing more of these in the future, so check back!). We’d love to hear what you think! Join us on any of our social media outlets to continue the conversation, or give us a call at 727-447-5845 to find out how our Florida Patient Advocates can help!