I have heard time and again how people feel lost in the healthcare system.  While it is the intention of healthcare providers to help customers become and stay healthy, patients and families need to feel comfortable advocating for themselves.  This can be challenging for most people as they put their trust in the healthcare experts.  The bottom line is you are the customer and your healthcare should be a collaborative effort.  Nothing unnerves me more than when I hear a patient or family say that no one is listening to them.  Here are 7 ways to be an advocate for yourself and your family or friends.

1.Know your rights:  Being a patient in the hospital, attending a doctor’s appointment or going for any kind of testing or lab work can make one feel a loss of control.  You always have rights as a patient that are federally protected.  Here you can read the details of the Patient Bill of Rights.

2.Prepare your questions:  We have all experienced the 10 or 15 minutes allotted to us with the doctor or nurse practitioner.  It is really no different in the office or the hospital.  As much as we think we won’t forget what we wanted to ask, inevitably it happens.  We can usually attribute this to feeling that the practitioner is too busy or because we just received information that we are trying to process.  Thinking through what you need to ask and writing it down will help foster effective communication with your provider about your care.

3.Keep a healthcare file:  This could be a simple folder or binder or even a digital file that is  your version of your medical chart.  This should include:

  • A bullet point list of your medical and surgical history
  • An up to date medication list including dosages, how often you take the medication and what the medication is for
  • Vaccine records including flu and pneumococcal
  • A list of your doctors, their specialty and contact information
  • A copy of your living will
  • The name and contact information of your Power of Attorney, healthcare surrogate and/or emergency contact person
  • Your health insurance information

4. Know how to call a rapid response:  In the hospital, there should always be some sort of Rapid Response team.  This is a team of specially trained critical care clinicians, usually nurses and respiratory therapists.  They respond to calls throughout the hospital when a patient has a clinical change.  This clinical change could be something like vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, temperature or oxygen levels) or a more generalized change that can’t quite be pin-pointed.  Have you ever looked at your child or a loved one and thought, “Something’s just not quite right” only to discover that you were correct?  Nurses often get that same intuition.  The Rapid Response team is there to put new eyes on the patient with the intention of preventing a serious or critical situation.  Every hospital should have a process by which patients and families can call a Rapid Response if they feel they are not getting the necessary medical attention they need.

5. Involve a support person:  Receiving medical care can be overwhelming.  Adults retain only about 20% of what they hear.   There is often fear and anxiety associated with healthcare discussions which can further impact how much we retain.  Having a person you trust be present during doctor’s appointments or in the hospital can help you ask questions and take notes on your plan of care.

6. Request written materials:  To go along with #5, it has been shown that adults can retain up to 80% of medical information when they receive written or picture information along with verbal.  The more you are able to retain, the better informed you are.  Being informed helps you to make thoughtful choices and adhere to treatment plans.

7. Remember there is always someone in charge:  I have seen time and again patients and families become frustrated with a situation because they did not know to whom to bring their concern.  No matter what setting you are in, there is always someone in charge.  This could be a supervisor, lead, charge nurse, manager, director and so on.  Healthcare is a business and customer experience is a huge part of what we do just like any other business.  If you have a concern, don’t ever hesitate to ask for the person in charge.  It is always better to allow someone the opportunity to recover a situation than for a customer to let it fester.

Gone are the days when people did things healthcare related simply because the doctor said so.  The advice of the experts should most certainly be  heeded, however an individual’s healthcare plan should be a joint effort.  Work with your care team to achieve your wellness goals, but don’t forget to advocate for yourself and your loved ones along the way.

I would love to hear your thoughts or experiences.  Please comment and share below!