In the medical realm, programs and activities related to ensuring access to care, navigating hospital and treatment facility systems, mobilizing resources, addressing health inequities, influencing health policy and creating system change are all components of what is known as health advocacy.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. Naomi Schmid and Chief Nursing Officer Roberta Young, of Lake Region Healthcare in Fergus Falls, collaborated to bring the community more insight into medical advocacy and its importance for patients and families.
According to these established medical professionals, the best way to advocate for oneself and for loved ones is to be an active member of the healthcare team. The doctors emphasized that patients who ask questions themselves or have an advocate who can ask questions on their behalf, are able to make sure they understand their options and are more likely to get more timely and accurate diagnoses, receive the best possible care and have better outcomes; an effective advocate will advise and support and will also respect the patient’s personal wishes and decisions.
Schmid and Young note that some people have the misconception that their doctor knows all the answers or knows what is best for them, when in fact advocacy means the patient and their support network are an essential part of the decision-making process. What is best for a patient involves many factors individual to the person and their situation, their wishes and their goals.
The LRH staff continue on to note that effective advocacy can improve outcomes by helping to ensure access to the right care, to needed resources beyond the healthcare setting, and address the whole person, including other social determinants of health that are important to their well-being such as adequate food, shelter, social connections and finances.
Some common barriers highlighted by Schmid and Young include the additional time it takes, the courage to speak up and the persistence to follow-through until all questions and concerns are addressed. They explain that preparing ahead of a visit and writing down questions or concerns can be helpful to everyone involved in the process.
Schmid and Young also mentioned The Joint Commission as a valuable resource for medical advocacy; it is a recognized global driver of quality improvement and patient safety in health care and through leading practices, extensive knowledge and expertise and rigorous standards seeks to help organizations across the continuum of care lead the way to zero harm. The organization runs a program with a goal to help patients and their advocates become active in their care called "Speak Up," an initiative that was launched in 2002 and has since reached people in more than 70 countries while also being recognized through numerous awards.
LRH staff also draws attention to The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, another organization that maintains a public education campaign called “Questions are the Answer." The patient resource offers 10 questions that are helpful for those wishing to play a more active role in their own healthcare team. Initial questions include:
1. What is the test for?
2. When will I get the results?
3. How do you spell the name of that drug?
4. Are there any side effects?
5. Will this medicine interact with medicines that I'm already taking?
6. Why do I need this treatment?
7. Are there any alternatives?
8. What are the possible complications?
9. Which hospital is best for my needs?
10. How many times have you done this procedure?
More information on patient advocacy can be found at the following: jointcommission.org, lrhc.org and ahrq.gov.