Doctor visits a patient at a hospital.

Importance of a Patient Advocate for Medical Care

Patient advocates play a critical role in the health care field, now perhaps more than ever before.

For a patient navigating the modern health care system, getting clear answers and thorough explanations can be challenging. Doctors often have limited time for one-on-one interactions with patients. The process of receiving medical care involves multiple parties, from nurses and physicians to surgeons, lab technicians and billing companies. And of course, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought unique struggles of its own.

When you are in a hospital room or doctor’s office alone, this is perhaps the most vulnerable you will ever be, which is why having a family member, a friend or even a trained professional to serve as your advocate is so important.

What is a Patient Advocate?

A patient advocate is someone who works to ensure you are receiving the best possible medical care. Parents often serve as a de facto advocate for their minor children, and adult children commonly fill this role for their aging parents. An advocate can also be a trained professional whose services are provided by a health insurance company, hospital, nursing home or other private organization.

Patient advocates are also commonly referred to as medical advocates or health care advocates. An individual who focuses specifically on the billing process is known as a medical billing advocate.

Whether a relative or trained professional, the duties of an advocate may include:

  • Accompanying a patient for medical appointments and/or hospital stays
  • Taking notes during consultations
  • Asking doctors and nurses to answer questions
  • Providing emotional support and a second-hand perspective
  • Helping to coordinate resolution of complaints, billing concerns or other issues

An individual serving as a patient advocate is generally not put in place to provide medical advice. Rather, their main objective is to help you receive and interpret the right advice from your medical team.

Benefits of Selecting a Patient Advocate

Health care professionals are committed to providing quality care and expected to uphold the oath to “do no harm.” But accidents can happen despite the best intentions.

In a medical setting, misreading a patient chart, providing the incorrect dose of a medication or relaying inaccurate information to nurses between shifts can have disastrous results. The consequences of a medical error could range from wasted time to a serious injury or unnecessary loss of life.

Did You Know: There are 29 events recognized as unacceptable standards of health care, commonly referred to as “Never Events.”

As a patient, you may also be prone to misunderstanding information from your doctor. It is more than understandable that a person who is undergoing a complicated treatment or suffering from a health condition may feel anxious and overwhelmed. Throughout the process of receiving medical care, a person may also be partially or fully incapacitated by the effects of medications, chemotherapy and other treatments.

If you or a loved one have experienced insufficient care or a serious medical error, contact a medical malpractice attorney for a free consultation.

Tips to Advocate for Yourself or a Loved One Receiving Medical Care:

1. Create a communication plan.

A communication plan can help streamline the delivery of information between your loved one and their medical team — whether they are hospitalized, undergoing treatment for a health condition or living in a nursing home.

To create a communication plan:

  • Identify a main contact on the medical team. Collect their preferred contact information and set reasonable guidelines for how often you should expect to receive updates.
  • Determine a main contact for the patient. Your loved one should be fully involved in their own treatment plans, if they are capable of doing so. You should also identify a main contact to receive updates on their behalf. This could be a spouse, child, close friend or a professional patient advocate. The point person will also be responsible for relaying updates to the larger network of family members, friends and interested parties.

2. Use video and phone calls.

A more recent concern for patients and their loved ones in the age of COVID-19 is the inability to have an advocate who is physically present for appointments, due to the need for health care facilities to control building capacity. If you are unable to be physically present with your loved one for their doctor visits for this or other reasons, technology can help bridge the gap.

More and more providers are using video calls and conferencing, in addition to online patient portals, telehealth appointments and custom mobile apps. For individuals who are not tech-savvy, even participating in a conference call allows you to serve as a second set of ears during a consultation.

3. Keep a health log.

Having a written record of your treatment experience can be an invaluable resource. Maintain a journal for yourself, if you are able, and ask your patient advocate to do the same. In addition to keeping track of current medications, medical providers and health history, other key points to include in your health journal can include:

  • List of daily symptoms and their severity
  • The time and duration of any check-ins with nurses, doctors and aides
  • Summaries of conversations with your physician
  • Questions you or your advocate have for the medical team
  • Noting any new or worsening conditions

In some situations, it may be beneficial if you or another person are able to take photographs. For example, if your loved one has developed bed sores, it is helpful to document the progression of the wounds.

4. Take a recording of important conversations.

You might consider recording a conversation with your health care provider. A recording can be useful if your advocate cannot be present at an appointment with you, or if you wish to replay the conversation to confirm you fully understand all of the physician’s diagnoses and recommendations. An audio recording can be taken on your cell phone, on a recording device or via a secure mobile app.

Please note: Not all states require a person to disclose when they are recording a conversation, but it is always a best practice to tell your physician when you are recording them — even if you are not legally required to do so.

5. Get legal help.

Navigating all the ins and outs of the health care system can be incredibly difficult and emotionally exhausting, particularly if you have lost a loved one as the result of a serious medical error. Contact a medical malpractice attorney to discuss your concerns as soon as you suspect you may have a claim.

Hiring an Attorney for Suspected Medical Malpractice

The St. Louis law office of Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum is uniquely qualified to pursue complex medical malpractice cases. Our team of attorneys is joined by a registered nurse with more than 15 years of clinical experience, whose involvement has helped our firm successfully obtain millions of dollars in compensation for our clients and their loved ones. Our firm operates on a contingency fee basis, which means you will not be asked to pay for anything unless we recover compensation for you.

Schedule a free consultation with the attorneys at Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum to discuss your concerns. Submit your request online or call our office during standard business hours at (314) 621-2900.