by Carolyn Bennett, B.S.N., R.N., BCPA, Owner/Manager, Healthmatch Advocacy
Independent Health Advocacy is about individual empowerment for making sound health decisions.
When the anesthesiologist revealed my husband’s lab results before surgery, I felt that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew the result of the hemoglobin was too low, but he blew it off by saying it’s OK for his age.
I knew better, and for this minor surgical procedure I did not think it would be a problem. However, after surgery I asked for the lab to be repeated, and the response was “why?”
I insisted and that began our journey through stage 3 colon cancer. Patients tend to be slotted into a one-size-fits-all category without “seeing” the individual. Two trusted providers ignored this important clue.
Consider this: For the last three years the National Academy of Medicine has publicly stated that the third leading cause of death is medical mistakes. Almost no one sets out to make a mistake, but the fast pace required today sets providers up for this terrible outcome.
Your health depends on good communication. Doctors and nurses are overworked and often do not have the time to fully explore a person’s history to find the causes of problems. It’s easier to quickly draw conclusions and prescribe a pill or treatment.
Specialization in medicine is great in that the provider has expert knowledge about the specialty, but our body systems are complex and work in harmony, not independently. Without good communication and coordination among all providers, treatment plans often collide, putting patients at risk for bigger problems.
Patient advocates can provide many types of services. They can help you understand your diagnosis, disease and medications or interpret what your doctor tells you. They can also help with elder care, insurance issues or your medical bills. Illness is a stressful time, often resulting in anxiety, confusion and poor communication.
An advocate can bring peace of mind that you have appropriate information to make good health decisions. Advocates take your health information and assemble it in a manner that is easily and more quickly understood by providers. Other services include finding a provider, visiting the provider with you, arranging health-related appointments, home safety checks and more. An advocate is often the professional helping a loved one when you cannot be there to attend personally.
Health-care advocates have been around for 20 years but are just now becoming better known. Nurses and other providers are educated to be patient advocates, but most work within the framework of their employer. Employer-paid advocates working for hospitals, clinics and insurance companies do help patients, but their first loyalty is to their employer. It is the independent health-care advocate who can truly be the patient’s dedicated advocate.
Currently, independent healthcare advocates are not covered by health insurance. The patient or the patient’s family must pay out of pocket for the service. However, patients overwhelmingly report great value for the services provided.
By the way, it’s been 12 years since that lab result came to my attention. My husband is alive, well and cancer-free today.