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Why You May Need a Health Advocate

There are times it's important to have a helpful friend, relative or professional at your side

Imagine your doctor has just given you a serious diagnosis or told you she was concerned about the results of your medical test. You might understandably be frightened. 

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Listening carefully to your doctor and asking questions about a diagnosis or test results can help you get better care. But here’s the problem: Just when you should be paying close attention to what your doctor is saying, you may be stunned by the news you've received.

That’s when having a health or patient advocate can help. 

A health advocate can be a family member, friend, trusted coworker, or a hired professional who accompanies you to your appointments and asks questions, writes down information, and speaks up for you so you can better understand your illness and get the care you need. (For more about hiring an advocate, see the sidebar on the next page.)

Research shows that quality health care requires taking an active role in decisions about your care. If you’re facing a difficult medical decision, it’s a good idea to bring someone with you who can help focus on your care when you’re not fully up to it

As a doctor and a patient, I’ve seen how valuable it is to have "another set of ears and eyes" in the exam room. Having an advocate at medical appointments or during a hospital stay can ensure that you get the information you need to manage your health. 

Health advocates can:

  • Ask questions or voice concerns to your doctor for you.
  • Compile or update your medicine list.
  • Remember your medication regimen and help you follow treatment. instructions, including asking questions about your follow-up care.
  • Help arrange transportation.
  • Research treatment options, procedures, doctors, and hospitals.
  • File paperwork or assist with insurance matters.
  • Ask the "what’s next" questions, such as, "If this test is negative what does it mean? If it’s positive, will more tests be needed?"

 

Of course, many encounters with the medical system are routine and don’t require the use of a patient advocate. But there are instances when an advocate can be valuable. For example, if you’ve had a series of tests and you’re concerned the results may reveal a diagnosis such as cancer, you might want to bring an advocate with you to hear and discuss the results.

Next: Hiring an advocate. >>

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