Within the world of healthcare, patient advocacy serves a vital purpose; not only does it enable patients to make decisions for themselves regarding their medical care, it also keeps them informed regarding the procedures and treatments relevant to their conditions. Advocates are people who are well-versed in healthcare, and their primary functions include speaking to medical professionals on behalf of patients, answering inquiries, and assisting individual patients in deciding their next course of action.
Many healthcare professionals act as advocates everyday; patient advocacy applies to any individual who speaks, acts, or behaves, in a manner that benefits and supports a patient who—for whatever reason—cannot advance their own interests. Oftentimes, this role is taken up by a nurse, who often collaborates with doctors and legal counselors to provide medical recommendations and resolve treatment issues.
On a broader scale, patient advocacy encompasses all efforts to provide access to care, navigate the healthcare system, secure and mobilize resources, address health inequities, influence health policies, and affect systemic change for the benefit of patients.
Types of Patient Advocacy
Medical Facility Advocacy — During instances in which physicians or other healthcare professionals fail to adequately address a hospitalized patient’s needs, a nurse can function as that patient’s advocate and liaison. For example, if the patient is given unsafe accommodations, an incorrect diagnosis, or convoluted self-care instructions, their nurse will inform the facility and the patient’s physician and begin the process to resolve the problem.
Legal System Advocacy — In legislative issues regarding a patient’s treatment or prescriptions, their nurse can support the patient’s rights as well as provide medical and financial counsel throughout the legal process. This type of advocacy can, at times, change established medical procedures or incite favorable improvements for an entire group of patients.
Family Advocacy — In addition to advocating for patients, nurses can advocate for the patient’s family. This includes assisting, defending, and locating resources for members of the patient’s family. Additionally, the nurse can mediate disagreements between the patient and their family regarding treatment options or other topics related to the patient’s medical care.
The Responsibilities of a Patient Advocate
Ensuring physical safety
Whether the patient is being treated at a medical facility or has been recently discharged, their nurse ensures that they are receiving the necessary care by communicating regularly with healthcare professionals, social workers, and case managers. In cases where the patient requires home healthcare assistance, their nurse can help them make the appropriate arrangements.
Providing support during medical discussions
If a patient feels vulnerable while expressing their concerns or posing inquiries to the physician, their nurse can sit in on the conversation. Along with providing support in the form of their physical presence, the nurse assists the patient with asking questions, supplying answers, and understanding medical terminology.
Educating on relevant topics
One of the most important ways that nurse advocates improve the lives of their patients is by routinely educating them on a number of issues that relate to the patient’s condition. Examples include:
- How to take care of the patient’s current ailment
- How to deal with a chronic illness
- The importance of taking medication as directed
- How to improve the patient’s overall quality of life
Protecting patients’ rights
In matters regarding the law, the nurse can support their patient by being present and knowledgeable throughout the legal process. This includes a general awareness of the patient’s preferences and needs as well as knowledge of any medical information the patient has disclosed on various legal documents.
Checking for errors
With the general double-checking that nurses often conduct, they can fix, flag, or prevent mistakes in patient records or treatment protocols. Information inaccuracies and conflicting orders from members of the healthcare team can and do happen. Yet through paying close attention to patient files, nurses can fix or prevent harm from occurring as a result of these blunders.
Connecting patients to medical resources
Nurses can assist patients and their families by locating resources both inside and outside of medical facilities. Local communities often have resources such as transportation, financial aid, and support networks for caregivers and patients; on the other hand, hospitals frequently have resources that support patients’ ongoing health.
Acting as liaison between patients and other healthcare professionals
Nurses often have the most interactions with patients; therefore, they are usually in a good position to convey their patient’s ideas and concerns to the rest of the healthcare team—or even the patient’s family members.
Assisting with various social and financial issues
Prior to discharge, patients often receive information on social and/or financial aid programs from their nurses, depending on each patient’s personal circumstances. In addition to ensuring that their patient has access to affordable prescriptions and medical supplies, nurses provide these resources in order to ensure that their patients receive the support they need in the event problems arise pertaining to self-care.
Acting as role models to other advocates
By displaying compassion and providing their patients with quality care, nurses serve as role models for patient advocacy as a whole. A positive atmosphere for patient advocacy is cultivated by attention to seemingly-minor details, such as good communication skills and general awareness of patients’ needs; yet these details quickly add up to encompass the full breadth of effective patient advocacy.
Advocating outside of healthcare facilities
Nurses often advocate for their patients outside of their workplaces. There are numerous advocacy organizations that focus on various issues relating to patient care. Many of these organizations rely on nurses and other medical personnel to offer advice and spread awareness for problems relevant to patients. Additionally, nurses attend seminars, conferences, and annual meetings in order to bolster and improve their current patient-care abilities.
Patient advocacy plays a key role in the composition of strong and effective health-support systems. By providing patients a means in which they can exercise control over their own healthcare, they—as citizens—are better able to hold their governments responsible for addressing the medical needs of the entire country, particularly citizens belonging to marginalized groups.