HELPING PEOPLE NAVIGATE THE HEALTHCARE SYSTEM by Caryn Isaacs
What does a 'Patient Advocate' do? The simple answer is they help people navigate the health care system. How they manage to do this is not so simple an answer. The cornerstone of this process is to remember those patients, doctors and everybody else you will deal with in the healthcare system are people first. As a Patient Advocate, my primary focus is the person who is seeking my help. I like to tell people, "I give a voice to your healthcare concerns."
All patient advocates basically offer the same services to people. Find them the right doctor, help assure an accurate diagnosis, discuss medical options, prioritize treatment, see that they are getting appropriate care and discuss with the patient their expectations verses possible outcomes. I have found however, that engulfing this process is the worry of the monetary costs beyond what insurance allows and the morbid fear people have of being sick. Healthcare providers and the people who are peripheral to the business of medicine, from receptionists to insurance representatives all do this for a living. Meaning everyday they deal with sick people and can become inured to it. On the other hand for most people, being sick and having to be a patient is not something they are familiar with or enjoy. So while all patient advocates basically offer the same services, how each of us deal with the patient's worries and fears is what sets us apart and dictates how effective we are in advocating for that patient to help assure favorable healthcare outcomes.
The person that becomes sick and requires a doctor's care or hospitalization certainly can benefit from a patient advocate. Especially if that advocate has experience dealing with healthcare insurance companies. Easing monetary worries demonstrably cuts back on the stress factor. Ameliorating the patient’s fear of being sick is a bit trickier. This is accomplished through effective communication enabling proper evaluation and supervision. A time consuming endeavor to say the least. Obviously it is difficult in today's healthcare environment for a doctor to spend time holding a patient's hand. They are there to diagnose and treat the patient as effectively and economically as possible. These are just the demands of the profession. This is where the patient advocate can be most effective. Through communication, evaluation and supervision the patient comes to recognize they are not alone in their quest to cease being an ill patient and once again be a healthy person.
As a 'Patient Advocate' when I refer to 'Communication', I am talking about being a good listener and observer of the patient, then a good communicator to the doctors, pharmacists and medical personnel in the patient's relational health matrix. The 'Evaluation' entails a comprehensive assessment of the existing quality of life and lifestyle of a person. This includes a complete 24 hour cycle of interaction and observation in order to monitor the eating, sleeping, waking, grooming, medicating and personal habits of the individual. Hygiene, clothing, housing, safety and mobility are also top concerns. I communicate with their doctors, hospitals, pharmacists, insurers and their family to complete the evaluation. Only then do I attempt to give a voice to the patient's healthcare concerns while helping to assure an accurate diagnosis and appropriate care. I assist in evaluating and implementing medical and pharmacological options, while still advocating the patient's personal priorities. I seek out appropriate care in an environment that best suits the patient and facilitates compliance, never forgetting that the patient is a person first.
Enhancing the quality of a patient's healthcare and easing the journey through the system is my mission as Patient Advocate. The goal is to equalize patient expectations and healthcare outcomes. 'Supervision' is the key to optimizing healthcare outcomes. The patient is going to follow the doctor's treatment plan, not only because the advocate is supervising, but because the patient has been an integral part of the process. The person that is the patient believes in the diagnosis and treatment prescribed. They are a willing participant, navigating the healthcare system wisely and looking forward to the day when they are again healthy.