Could You Benefit From Having a Patient Advocate?

When it comes to healthcare, you most likely have many years of experience talking to your doctors and discussing your treatment. As we age, however, we may face barriers or challenges that keep us from communicating as effectively as we once did or from remembering everything our doctor says. That’s why it’s a good idea to have someone you can count on as a patient advocate – someone you trust to represent your best interests.

Here’s a good example of why someone might want a patient advocate, described by Dr. Carolyn Clancy, former director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. “Imagine that your doctor just gave you a serious diagnosis or told you she was concerned about the results of your medical test. You might understandably become scared. Listening carefully to your doctor and asking questions about a diagnosis or test results can help you get better care. But here’s the problem: Just when you should be paying close attention to what your doctor is saying, you may be stunned by the news you just received.”

What does a patient advocate do?

Patient advocates can help make sure your wishes are followed when it comes to healthcare. Their activities can include:

  • Keeping track of the medications you take
  • Going to doctor visits and pharmacies with you
  • Taking notes and asking questions during doctor visits
  • Helping you think through your care options and make decisions
  • Helping with insurance matters

You might already have someone in your life who is doing some of these things for you. If not, consider asking someone. “The older you are, the more important it is to have another person with you during visits,” says Dr. John Burton of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Who can be a patient advocate?

Patient advocates are often family members – typically a spouse or partner, or an adult child. You may ask a trusted friend to be your advocate. You can also hire a professional advocate. Ask your doctor for local recommendations or check the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy or the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates. Choose someone you can trust to help you understand your needs and care about your best interests.

If you are your parent’s advocate

Helping “ensure the best life possible for our loved ones when they are vulnerable” is how Amy Goyer, AARP’s family and caregiving expert, describes being an advocate for your parent. It can seem strange to experience the role reversal of being a caretaker for a parent. It may come at a time when you are still taking care of your own children. You are certainly not alone. Check out Goyer’s article, “How to Be an Effective Advocate for Aging Parents,” and consider joining AARP’s Family Caregivers Group on Facebook.

Categories: Aging, Senior Health