How to Advocate for a Patient

It’s intimidating, speaking up for a loved one who has the new label “patient.” But it’s necessary, if you want your patient to stay healthy and avoid preventable injuries in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and wherever patients undergo medical care. A new video from a prominent health care standards organization aims to provide some essential coaching for patient advocates.

The Joint Commission is best known as the nonprofit organization that accredits hospitals, but its mission goes beyond reviewing facility standards. It aims generally to improve health care not only by evaluating, but by informing.

One of its most recent initiatives is a video tutorial called “Ask Your Advocate to Speak Up” to illustrate the important role health-care advocates play in patient treatment. Often, the “health-care advocate” is you, and the patient is your loved one.

For some people, patient advocacy is a profession – how is the Average Jane supposed to know what to do to protect a loved one’s interests and ensure the best care in an often confusing and scary medical event?

A series of scenarios presents an advocate taking the steps required to make sure, for example, a medication allergy is known, or symptoms are communicated if the patient is unable.

The site uses “Speak Up” as a mnemonic device. That a learning technique that helps you retain information:

Speak up if you have questions or concerns. If you still don’t understand, ask again. It’s your (or your loved one’s) body, and you have a right to know.

Pay attention to the care you get. Always make sure you/your loved one is getting the right treatments and medicines by the right health-care professionals. Don’t assume anything.

Educate yourself about the illness. Learn about the medical tests you/your loved gets, and the treatment plan.

Ask a trusted family member or friend to be your advocate (adviser or supporter).

Know what medicines you/your loved one take and why you take them. Medicine errors are the most common health-care mistakes.

Use a hospital, clinic, surgery center or other type of health-care organization that has been carefully checked out. (Find an accredited organization on the Joint Commission site here.)

Participate in all decisions about you/your loved one’s treatment. You are the center of the health-care team.

The video outlines how an advocate works with the patient and health-care professionals as part of a team to:

  • act in the patient’s best interest;
  • remind the patient about instructions;
  • help the patient make decisions;
  • recognize changes in the patient’s condition;
  • asks questions when the patient cannot;
  • offer the patient emotional support; and
  • motivate the patient to focus on goals for treatment.

The latest video is part of a Joint Commission series that debuted on YouTube in 2011. It covers a range of material to empower patients and their advocates. Other topics include pain management, medication safety and how to prevent falls, medical errors and infection. You can download files of information from the Joint Commission website.

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