I recently received a free ebook from the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates called "You Bet Your Life! The Top 10 Reasons You Need a Professional Patient Advocate by Your Side" by Trisha Torrey. This list really encompasses what patient advocacy is all about and I wanted to share the top reasons that I believe patient advocacy is so important. I’ll only be covering a few, but you can view the full list in her book.
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about patient advocacy. A question we hear a lot is how we differ from a friend or family member. While friends and family members are great as a second pair of ears or a source of comfort, they often lack the extensive knowledge about the medical field and its complexities. The phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” comes into play here and is coincidentally the first of Trisha’s 10 reasons. With that, let’s jump right in.
1) You don’t know what you don’t know
If you know what specific questions to ask, you can probably find out the answer on your own. However, because the healthcare field is so confusing and difficult to navigate, it can be extremely burdensome to come up with that perfect question. A patient advocate is an invaluable resource here. Because of their extensive training and knowledge about the healthcare field, they can easily figure out exactly what questions need to be asked. On top of that, medical terminology and logistics are confusing to the average person. Since patient advocates are well versed in both, they can ensure you will get the care you actually need. Trisha states that your best bet to get the best outcome for your own situation is to find a patient advocate who keeps up with processes, changes in policies, shifts in the system, navigational knowledge, and knows the resources to find the most current information. I couldn’t agree more!
2) Emotions get in the way
A life-changing or confusing diagnosis can cause a wide variety of emotions- fear, uncertainty, anxiety, and worry, to name a few. When our fight or flight response kicks in, it is extremely difficult to rationally think or make decisions. This comes as a detriment to the patient, as this is one of the most critical decision-making moments. An outside perspective is invaluable here. As a neutral third party, a patient advocate can keep all of the facts straight and help guide you through the next steps. They act as your beacon of light, providing you with peace of mind that everything is being taken care of. Your patient advocate is fully invested in you and will help you objectively make decisions and figure out what road to take.
3) No one is coordinating your care
Anyone who has ever seen a specialist probably knows that doctors rarely talk to each other. When you follow up with your PCP, they often have no idea what went on at your specialist’s visit. It’s not either of your doctors’ fault - they just simply don’t have the time to help you coordinate all of your information, prescriptions, and care. That burden is passed onto you, the patient. You are in charge of detailing everything that is discussed with you, scheduling exams and bloodwork, and following up with other doctors. Add in the emotions discussed in Reason #2, and you have a recipe for disaster. A patient advocate helps coordinate your “transitions of care”, which includes these handoffs from one medical professional to another. Without an advocate, this is the #1 area in which patients can “fall through the cracks”. Having a professional advocate coordinate all of your care documents, medications, and test results ensures that you are getting the best possible treatment.
4) The internet is a trap
We’ve all been there - we enter our symptoms into WebMD and receive possible diagnoses which can include more serious diseases like cancer or brain tumors as we make our way down the list. WebMD can be a good starting point for many conditions, but an internet questionnaire is no substitute for a trained medical professional. Reading about possible diagnoses can bring out those same emotions noted in Reason #2, making us irrational decision-makers. On top of that, a lot of information on the internet exists solely to make someone else money, and is not just simply information. The messaging that you see is often crafted to evoke those emotions in order to get you to do something - buy a supplement, ask your doctor about a new drug, use an online doctor service, etc. Again, when we are feeling those strong emotions, we are not able to think clearly. A patient advocate is there for you to distinguish between fact and fiction. Instead of allowing you to doom-scroll on the internet, they will instead guide you to appropriate resources and make sure all of your concerns are brought up at your next doctor’s appointment.
From just these four examples, it is clear to see that having a patient advocate on your side is one of the best things you can do for yourself or a loved one. Patient advocates are on your side and are trained to help guide you through the healthcare field no matter the illness or ailment. As a patient advocate myself, I am proud to work on behalf of my clients to ensure they receive the absolute best care they can get.
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