Becoming the voice of the patient

Patient advocateYou are 82 years old. An injury has landed you in the hospital and after a week you are ready to gain back your strength and mobility.  Your family and social worker search high and low to find a short-term care facility with a reputation for providing outstanding rehabilitation care.

When you arrive at the rehab facility, you are in pain, feeling very vulnerable and may or may not have a close family member or friend by your side.  Thereafter, a slew of activity happens around you:

  • The nurse comes in to provide meds and take vital signs.
  • An aide comes in to wake you, bathe you, and toilet you on schedule or by request.
  • You are asked to fill out a menu of meal choices for the week.
  • You are told the doctor will visit you briefly at some point in the near future.
  • You are scheduled for physical and occupational therapy.

Even with all those people in and out, you still feel isolated and confused. You have questions:

  • Why didn’t you receive the menu items you ordered?
  • Can meal times and therapy times be better coordinated so you have time to eat?
  • Why hasn’t the doctor’s recommended device arrived?
  • How can you get the aides to understand your needs when there is a language barrier?
  • Why is no one responding to the button you pushed for help?

Unfortunately, this scenario is not uncommon.  Even the best long term care facilities are subject to the demands and constraints of a bureaucratic, understaffed, financially challenged healthcare system.

Who can possibly improve the channels of communication to make sure patients’ concerns are addressed?  I am a Patient Advocate and I am the one who can become your voice in this unintentionally impersonal system.  I am the catalyst who can remind the busy staff about an individual patient’s needs.

After a long and fulfilling career on both the clinical and research sides of healthcare, I wanted to become the human link between patients and the healthcare system. Each week I volunteer at a local rehabilitation facility.  The Executive Director of the facility wants to make sure that patients’ voices are heard so I meet with each new patient to ask them how I can make their stay more comfortable.  I come in with a smile, engage them as a friend and assure them they can make requests without being labeled a “difficult patient.”

After I leave a patient’s room, I go up the chain of command to find out where the bottleneck is.  Perhaps a supplier didn’t come through or there was a scheduling mix-up.  Perhaps there was an unexpected staff shortage or the kitchen ran out of a certain ingredient.   Based on my feedback the Executive Director finds the weak link in the system and within minutes or a few hours, social workers, kitchen managers and nurses “magically” appear to further address patients’ needs.

The Executive Director knows she has a person “on the ground” to check in with patients;  the patients know they have someone in their corner to advocate for them; and I know that when someone feels less frustrated and frightened, they are more ready to begin the hard work of recovery.

This post was written by a Patient Advocate who wished to remain anonymous.