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Independent patient advocates ensure health care outcomes

Choice and control are the new buzzwords in healthcare. The complexity of the health care system has created a need for a new professional: The Independent Patient Advocate. An advocate can help you navigate the health care system, including dealing with clinicians, understanding your condition and treatment options, and assisting with health insurance issues.

Patient advocates are an investment. Where a system is complex (hospitals, aged care, chronic illness) an expert advocate frequently saves you money through streamlined case management, fewer complications and shorter down time. The advocate provides support, education and expert input when you or your family is under pressure.

Your independent advocate is someone who is by your side every time you want support, their motivation and focus is you. Someone who can help you translate, coordinate, navigate, negotiate, monitor and intercede on your behalf.

Johns Hopkins expert John Burton, M.D encourages all his patients to have an advocate, but only about 70 percent do.

“It would be better if it were 100 percent,” he says.

“The older you are, the more important it is to have another person with you during visits.”

This is true for aged patients and even more so for acutely ill patents. The greatest number of critical incidents happen in hospital and shortly after discharge, and patients would be well advised to be proactive rather than reactive.

Your time of greatest need is when you are least able to look after yourself

Older people tend to be unassertive and more easily intimidated by a health professional or a situation. Equally, an unexpected illness can put you and your family under a good deal of emotional and practical stress. An independent patient advocate focusses on a situation from the client’s perspective, providing support and relieving some of that stress.

Choosing your independent patient advocate

The most important thing, says Burton, is that you choose someone you respect and trust, who is recommended and who has the requisite training and background: someone who has the skills to improve your outcomes.

Your advocate as an educator

An advocate is not just for doctor visits or hospital stays. You can discuss new health issues with that person—for instance, ask him or her to source material for you and assist you in making decisions.

My practice is broadly based. In the last few weeks I have had:

  • A client whose mother was critically in in a major ICU (the children were unhappy with the communication and doubtful about the treatment. They needed to concentrate on the emotional issues and “outsource” the concern about the health issues),
  • A guardian who wanted to shift an old lady from one nursing home to another because she believed the care was dodgy (by far getting the care sorted is a better option if possible and we are doing that successfully),
  • A 50 year old woman whose severe pain over 4 months was being ignored by her specialists in their pursuit of a surgical solution.
  • A client who my colleague, Kay Cambourn assisted. The client suffered an acute psychosis and paranoia, who needed someone independent of the hospital who he could trust. Part of the role was to protect him from himself.

All have had good outcomes and the collaborative process with the medical and nursing staff has been positive and productive.

If you would like to discuss a situation where you think an independent patient advocate will provide a solution, an initial telephone consultation is cost and obligation free. I can give you an estimate of expenses involved and an estimate of the time frame.


– Dorothy Kamaker MN RN, Independent Patient Advocate

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