5 Strategies for Better Patient Advocacy

None of us make it through our lifetime without requiring medical care. Even if you were the unicorn that lived a full life without an injury, illness, or sore tooth, someone you know will require care. And whether it is you, a family member, or a friend, it’s important to understand how to be an advocate throughout the process. Because the importance of patient advocacy lies in its ability to enhance outcomes during medical care.

What is Patient Advocacy?

In the traditional sense of the word, patient advocates are people or organizations that interface with medical facilities, medical professionals, and even insurance companies on the behalf of patients. Patient advocates can assists with complicated decisions, such as insurance claims, tests, and procedures. Though there are professional patient advocacy providers, a family member, friend, or spouse can also fill this role.

How to Be a Patient Advocate for Yourself or a Family Member

When going through an injury or illness, it is easy to take all the information you receive from doctors and nurses as gospel. The experience can be overwhelming, after all. Yet inefficiencies, mistakes, and oversights do happen, especially when you consider the volume of patients that a given medical practitioner sees in a given day. And there are plenty of opportunities for patients or their advocates to provide context, additional information, and timely decision making to help facilitate better outcomes.

Here are five strategies to be a better patient advocate:

  • Ask questions – A lot of them. Resist the tendency to just go through the motions. Instead, ask nurses, doctors, therapists, and other medical staff about timelines, medications, procedures and test results.

  • Take notes – There is nothing wrong with taking notes while meeting with medical professionals. The volume of information around medication, treatment outlooks, and therapy recommendations can be overwhelming. Take notes and be sure to add timestamps so you can reference your notes later.

  • Do your research – Find credible information from reputable sources about conditions, illnesses, and injuries. This can help you ask informed questions and be realistic about treatment.

  • Lean on your support system – For some odd reason, people tend to shoulder burdens alone in times of need. It’s important to include family and friends during treatment, recovery, or rehabilitation. It introduces new perspectives on the matter and helps avoid burnout.

  • Be honest – The more that your physician, physical therapist, or nurse knows, the better equipped they are to provide accurate and effective care. Give them complete and accurate information whenever you can.

Good patient advocates ask not just what the physician’s objectives are for treatment—or what they recommend—but ask themselves what their own objectives and goals are. If you are advocating for yourself, say your objectives out loud. Write them down. Have a working understanding of these goals so that you can communicate them to your physician or physical therapist when the time comes.

Remember: physicians, physical therapists, and other medical professionals—though highly trained and talented—are not mind readers. They too benefit from an informed and engaged patient advocate.