Patient-advocates employed by hospitals need to be
trained in giving the patient what he is looking forA Patient Has the Right to Select Her Advocate
Sunita lives in an old-age home in Gurgaon, Delhi. Of late, her
worsening vision and unsteady walk have meant that she spends more of her time
indoors. Her daughter Kamla visits her a few times, every week. Kamla also
takes her mother out for doctors’ appointments. During her first appointment,
Sunita told her doctor, “Please communicate with my daughter on all
health-related matters. My daughter makes all those decisions and I like it
that way. She explains things in a way I can understand and, after all, she’s
the one who takes me around to all of my tests and appointments.
Times are changing, and
hospitals, doctors and patients are changing too. As patients have become more
savvy and demanding, there is a need for patient-advocates to fill in the
service gaps that hospitals and doctors leave. While they may be great at
performing complex surgical procedures, doctors are often not very good at
providing tender loving care - and patients want to be hand-held when they are
ill. This is something that patient-advocates can do efficiently.
Today, when hospitals
advertise, they no longer flaunt their fancy buildings. Instead, they have
photos of their diva brand name star surgeons, dressed in crisp white coats and
stethoscopes, the idea being to entice patients with their pool of top medical
experts. After all, healthcare is a service and hospitals want to position
themselves as caring, credible service providers. Patients want to ensure that
they get the best medical advice from the top expert in the field, in a safe,
professionally-run hospital environment. As patients are becoming more aware,
they are asserting their rights, and have begun to expect doctors and hospitals
to take an interest in their well-being - and are willing to pay to get
top-notch services. 78
Advocacy Giving Voice to Patients
The onus is now on doctors
and their medical teams to ensure that they provide premium quality service, so
they can build a relationship of trust with their patients. Doctors need to
accept that patients are consumers who can get turned off by hospitals that
offer poor-quality service - and go to the competing five-star hospital down
Typically, hospitals are
unfriendly places, which are designed for doctors and nurses - not for
patients. Often the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing; there
is little coordination; and patients are lost and confused. However, for
patients to have a positive experience in the hospital, it’s important that
they feel heard, understood and respected. One simple way patient advocates can
do this is by collating all medical updates and providing a summary daily
report card on their state of health. A tech-savvy patient advocate can set-up
an online patient portal, where family members can track the progress of the
patient. Using Skype, the patient (or the advocate or the relatives in the
hospital) can hold video conferences with friends and family members, wherever
they may be located.
If you are not so
ambitious, you can setup a simple Facebook page for the duration of your
patient’s hospital stay, and this can serve as a very valuable online channel
which friends and relatives can use to stay in touch; remain updated; and
provide support, even if remotely. All you need to utilise this kind of a
service is a laptop. This can be especially useful for critically-ill patients
and their families. By providing such innovative, value-added features, you can
establish yourself as a credible, state-of-the-art healthcare brand.
Why hospitals are employing patient advocates
Given the great value which
patient advocates can add, forward thinking hospital CEOs are now investing in
creating a team of patient advocates that patients can turn to in their time of
need. Patient advocates report directly to the CEO and act as ombudsmen. Smart
CEOs understand the value of improving the patient experience and know that
patient advocates can play an important role in both monitoring this and in
improving it. From that prominent and protected vantage point, patient
advocates spearhead efforts to improve care by scrutinizing untoward patient
experiences and advocating timely remedies. Patient advocates are
well-connected within the hospital, and are uniquely qualified to inform
patients and their families of other services available to them while they are
hospitalized, whether in terms of accessing additional health information at an
onsite consumer health library, the availability of spiritual support services,
or requesting a massage on your behalf. Patient advocates are very effective
brand ambassadors, which show that the hospital is a caring service provider
who puts patients first. Some hospitals assign a patient advocate to each
patient at the time of admission. This can be very comforting for a patient who
now has a trusted guide he can turn to in times of need.
Patient advocates employed by
hospitals need to be trained in giving the patient what he is looking for. It
could be information, excellent service, compassionate staff, or technical expertise.
Let your patient-advocate forge partnerships that you can leverage as a service
provider. Even though their salary is being paid by the hospital, their primary
job is to delight patients.
Good patient advocates share
hospital resources with patients freely and in a meaningful way. They must
understand that their role is to give patients time and a listening ear.
They go the extra mile in
reaching out to patients, especially during an emergency. A patient
advocate can generate a lot of goodwill for the hospital by delighting patients
The biggest worry an enlightened
hospital CEO has is how to manage unhappy patients. Many patients may
experience difficulties during their hospital stay, but are scared to
articulate these. They have concerns that are never communicated because they
are fearful of repercussions if they complain. They are afraid that the staff
will label them as a complainer and treat them badly. Hospitalization and
illness can be very stressful for the patient and it’s common to experience
emotions that may make it difficult for patients to express their needs and
concerns. They are scared that they might break down and cry; lose their temper
with a hospital staff member; feel intimidated and not say what they intended
to; or be labeled as difficult, which is why they are scared to speak up.
They end up bottling their complaints, but this resentment can
build up, and can be expressed as violence against the hospital staff, in case
the patient suffers from a complication, or dies. Patients need someone other
than the hospital staff to speak for them, which is where the patient advocate
comes in. Bringing up concerns to the patient advocate is not viewed as being
complaining or making waves – it is viewed as an opportunity to provide you
with support, encouragement, and assistance.
Patient advocates are on call 24/7 - and their goal is to provide
you and your family with the best possible experience during the hospital stay.
A patient advocate is in hospital to help you – she is on your side and her job
is to make sure you are happy, so make the most of her services.
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