Each year 100,000 Americans die in hospitals from medical errors, and over 80,000 catch hospital-acquired infections. Medical bills are the #1 cause for declaring bankruptcy in the U.S. It’s no wonder that so many of us get lost in this healthcare maze; feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to turn or how to get help!
You might have noticed that our healthcare system has grown into a confusing mishmash of services, providers, treatment options, research, drugs, insurance plans, and bills. Fortunately, for the past several years a new movement has taken hold – patient advocates.
There are three broad categories of advocates each with its own advantages and limitations:
- Historically we relied on family or close friends to be our advocates in the medical realm. They are usually close by, free of charge, and know us well. However, they also bring emotional baggage and family dynamics with them. And they may have very limited knowledge of the healthcare system.
- Medical staff such as nurses, case managers, and patient reps employed by a hospital, medical practice, or insurance company are the second type of advocates. These navigators now healthcare and are paid by their employer so are usually free to you. The downside is that their ultimate loyalty will be to their employer. And they are often restricted to helping you while you are in the hospital or seeing their doctors, or within the confines dictated by your insurance company.
- Independent health/patient advocates are professionals from a variety of backgrounds whose mission is to guide healthcare consumers through the bewildering, frightening maze by helping them get answers, find direction and, ultimately, gain peace of mind. They know healthcare and how to get things done. They are impartial when dealing with family, insurance companies, or service providers. Their loyalty is to their patient and ONLY their patient. The only drawback with an independent advocate is that you will have to pay them out of your own pocket.
You might be asking: “Can’t I just take care of myself? Do I really need an advocate?” YES, you do! Anyone who is ill (hospitalized or not), facing tough medical decisions, trying to find answers and their way through the healthcare system needs an advocate. You can advocate for yourself – and you should – to a certain extent. But this is not the time to go solo. Keep in mind that when you are distracted and not feeling up to snuff, your mental capacity also suffers. You are not able to make the kind of clear-minded, well-informed decisions you normally could. Get an advocate.
Where can you locate a professional advocate? Ask nurses at your hospital if there are nurse navigators or case managers on staff that you can request. Check with your insurance carrier for patient advocates on their payroll. If you choose to go with an independent advocate (the choice I highly recommend), they have a nationwide network and are happy to help you locate an advocate – near or far – for yourself, a family member, or a friend. You can visit this network’s website and ask for a recommendation for an advocate.
Having health issues is stressful enough. Don’t add to your anxiety by wandering through the healthcare system alone. And don’t worry that your doctor will be insulted. Over the past 3 years while I was an advocate, I witnessed physicians becoming much more accepting of their patients using advocates. They actually appreciate you having a second set of ears and someone to ask questions and take notes for you during office visits and in the hospital. A patient is far less likely to forget or not follow instructions if their advocate is there to help them. Being willing to ask for and accept help in the form of an advocate is the wisest decision you can make.
Have you had an experience when you or a loved one used a patient advocate? Or have you had an experience that, in retrospect, you wish you had used an advocate? How would it have changed what happened?