What is a Patient Advocate?
There is not a uniformly accepted definition of the term patient advocate; however, there is broad consensus amongst healthcare and legal professionals that a patient advocate can be an important part of a patient’s medical journey. The most common patient advocate takes the form of a spouse, parent, family member, or close friend that accompanies the patient during hospitalizations or medical appointments.
A new medical diagnosis, whether it be from a traumatic event like a car wreck or a chronic disease condition, can quickly overwhelm a patient.
In the midst of in-patient treatment, medical appointments, home health visits, and the like, patients often find themselves in need of help. A patient advocate can provide that help by being available to:
- ask questions of treatment providers
- facilitate communication between patient and provider
- organize information and documentation necessary for treatment
- act as a liaison between the patient and outsiders with whom the patient conducts business
- conduct independent research on diagnoses, prognoses, and treatment
- work with billing departments and insurance
- serve as protective set of eyes and ears to observe the quality and consistency of the care provided
Normally, this role of patient advocate is filled by a loved one, but there are non-profit organizations, such as the Patient Advocate Foundation, and for-profit entities that specialize in serving as an independent patient advocate separate and apart from the actual medical providers. Long before the Coronavirus pandemic reached the shores of the United States, medical and legal professionals knew the importance of medical patients having a reliable patient advocate to help them navigate their treatment.
Which brings us to COVID-19 and the swell of restrictions reaching across the nation that have resulted in limited visitors at hospitals, medical appointments, and assisted living facilities. These restrictions are well-intentioned; the transmissibility of the novel Coronavirus and its impact on hundreds of thousands of infected Americans necessitate proper steps to stem the contagion. But these restrictions have undoubtedly denied patient access to their chosen patient advocate. Perhaps this denial of access has had the most impact on those at most risk to the novel Coronavirus, our nursing home residents.
In April, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued an executive order limiting visitor access and communal activities, among other restrictions, at the State’s nursing homes. The order came on the heels of a number of COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes, which has, unfortunately, gotten worse over the last month.
It is vitally important that nursing home residents, and all patients across the nation, have access to patient advocates. When physical in-person attendance is impossible, healthcare providers need to fully leverage technology to ensure access. This means the use of tablets, smartphones, and computers to guarantee virtual participation in care by a patient’s chosen patient advocate. As in many sectors across society, the global pandemic will breed innovative and creative problem solving as a necessity. Such creativity will be needed to strengthen and grow the access and use of patient advocates during this turbulent time.