We May Need a Patient Advocate (“Guardian Angel”) Sometime During Our Lifetime
A patient advocate can be a family member, friend, or a professional private advocate you hire to assist an impaired family member in designated and agreed upon ways. For example, engage an advocate to accompany your family member and take notes during office visits with his/her doctor(s) and, with your relative’s permission, share information with you. It’s helpful to write down in an agreement the specific functions you want to carry out and revise them when health and other factors warrant.
An example: Mr. Wright, an 84-year-old widower, in good health, was an accomplished writer and poet, lived alone in a small town, and shared his concern with one of the healthcare forum’s authors about who would contact his lawyer, financial advisors, and four children who lived far away should he become disabled.
He hired a nearby patient advocate agency and gave them confidential financial, health, and family information so the agency would know who to contact if he became seriously ill. He also sent a detailed letter to his two oldest children, lawyer, accountant, and financial advisor with details of all his assets/liabilities, including the whereabouts in his home of his jewelry, art, and other personal possessions. He didn’t want to leave a mess behind for his “kids to pick up”. Unfortunately, a year later fate dealt him a bad hand. He had a heart attack and died during his third day in the hospital. Fortunately, his children learned about his illness from his personal advocate and spent quality time with him in the hospital.
Overcoming an Aging Parent’s Reluctance to Hire an Advocate
It’s understandably difficult for an elderly parent or relative who has been proud of being independent and successful their entire life to recognize and accept increasing impairments (e.g., memory, driving, etc.) that sometimes accompany “getting older.”
If you and your siblings live far away from your impaired relative, one strategy to engage your parents’ cooperation is to say you need “their help” to accept a “personal assistant” to reduce your worry about their health and safety.
Finding an Advocate
- If family members live near their impaired parent, one or more of the adult children may already be carrying out functions of an advocate. There’s usually no need for a format written agreement.
- If there’s no relative or friend nearby, you can contact a nearby hospital’s administration office or social agency for the names of independent patient advocates. Some retired nurses, social workers and doctors who now work part-time as advocates have special training and knowledge.
- If your relative is hospitalized and you need advice, a hospital representative or “advocate” paid by the hospital can be of some help about hospital-related problems, but there may be some conflict of interest. A privately paid advocate would have your relative’s interests of primary concern.
- The AdvoConnection Directory provides a listing of privately paid advocates throughout the U.S. and guidance about how to assess and hire an advocate. Put into your browser AdvoConnection Directory – scroll down to Directory of Private Independent Professional Advocates – click on Finding Advocates – follow directions for info About Private Advocates.
- To learn more about how someone you love can benefit from an advocate, we recommend the book, You Bet Your Life! The Top 10 Reasons You Need a Patient Advocate by Your Side, by Trisha Torrey, available on Amazon.
Consider interviewing several potential advocates (just like you may do with a potential lawyer or physician) to compare their availability, fees, etc. before selecting the “right fit”.
Letter of Agreement
As of now, there is no universal form or contract. Different agencies and privately paid advocates usually have their own agreement that spells out the functions/tasks that they are being asked to carry out. The list of functions may need to be revised every so often.
For more detailed information about patient advocates, please refer to “Patient Advocate” in the index of our recently published Insider’s Guide to Quality, Affordable Healthcare, available from Amazon and bookstores.
We welcome learning about your experiences and questions you have about this or previous forums.
If you think others can benefit from our book and website, www.qualityaffordablehealthcare.net, please spread the word.
Financial Struggles of American Over Age 55, Especially Regarding Healthcare will be the topic for our August forum.
Best wishes for a long, satisfying life.
Larry Lazarus & Jeff Foster