Getting a diagnosis of a serious illness can be an overwhelming experience. You’re likely to be distracted and miss hearing important information. An advocate can gather that information for you and ask the questions that need to be asked.
Who makes a good health advocate?
A health advocate should be a person who is calm, pays attention to details, and can ask questions and state information clearly. If possible, choose someone who knows you well. Be clear about what kind of help you need and what worries you.
It’s helpful to give your advocate details of your medical history. For example, you may want to discuss the tests you’ve had, list medicines you take, and provide any treatment preferences as well as contact information for other family members and your durable power of attorney.
If your advocate doesn’t know you well, be certain to let him or her know if your hearing or vision is limited. He or she can alert your medical team to speak clearly and to read instructions aloud if they are not available in large type.
If you can’t locate an advocate before an important medical or hospital visit, you can often find a nurse or doctor to serve in this role. Some professional advocates specialize in researching the best available treatments and can assist you at home or in the hospital. Check to see if your health insurance covers these services.
You can also ask your local hospital staff to recommend a patient advocate. In fact, some hospitals and nursing homes employ advocates who work on patients’behalf at no charge.
It’s likely that you or a loved one will one day need a health advocate. For many patients, the benefits of having an advocate are priceless because this person can help you understand your options and give you peace of mind so you can focus on your recovery.
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Carolyn M. Clancy is a general internist and researcher, and the "Finding Your Way" columnist for AARP's Bulletin. As the director of the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality she is an expert about how consumers can engage in their health care.