A senior couple talking to a doctor
A senior couple talking to a doctor
A senior couple talking to a doctor

The Power of a Health Care Advocate

You hear a lot about how to prepare for a doctor’s visit: Make a list of medications you’re taking. Write down your questions. Complete any paperwork ahead of time, if you can. Here’s one more thing to consider: bringing a health advocate with you.

A health advocate can be a spouse, relative, friend, or caregiver that you trust. Although all patients should have an advocate, only about 70 percent do. Older adults are especially likely to benefit from having another person with them during medical visits. 

Older couple speak with a doctor in his office.

As you age, you may have more health issues to discuss. Having two people hear the discussion and making sure they understand is much better than just one set of ears, since it can be difficult for one person to remember everything that’s been discussed. 

Choosing Your Personal Health Advocate

A good health advocate is someone who knows you well and is calm, organized, assertive, and comfortable asking questions. When selecting an advocate, it’s best to:

  • Clearly explain the kind of help you need and your concerns. 
  • Provide details of your medical history. You may even want to give your advocate access to your electronic health record so he or she can refer to test results or notes, ask for refills on prescription medication, and even email questions or concerns to the physician. Just make sure you provide permission for the doctor and other health care professionals to share information about you with your advocate. 
  • Ask the advocate to take notes or even record conversations with health care professionals. (Ask for your doctor’s permission before recording.) 
  • Give your advocate’s contact information to your health care team, and give your advocate your health care team’s contact information. 

The most important thing is choosing someone you respect and can trust to be both discreet and caring. 

While your personal health advocate can help if you’re hospitalized, many hospitals also provide patient advocates to assist you. Geriatric care managers, including registered nurses and social workers, often serve as health care advocates.

Should I hire a professional health care advocate?

The complexity of the health care system has given rise to a new professional: the patient advocate. This person is often a nurse, social worker, geriatric care manager or other health care professional who can help you navigate the health care system, including dealing with clinicians, understanding your condition and treatment options, and even helping with health insurance issues.

Hiring and professional could be a good option if you don’t have a personal health advocate. Several organizations provide advocate training and lists of advocates on their sites, including the Professional Patient Advocate Institute, the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, and the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants. However, be aware that there are no state licensing requirements or national accreditation or certification tests for patient advocates, so ask for references and assess an individual’s experience and history carefully. 

Your Advocate as Educator

An advocate is not just for doctor visits or hospital stays. A patient can discuss new health issues with the advocate. For instance, an advocate can offer perspective on whether or not a treatment is working. When there are two people on the same page of an issue, the patient doesn’t have to agonize about making all the decisions alone. This is particularly important for seniors and those who may live alone.

An advocate can also help doctors educate you about your condition so you can manage it better. Your advocate’s communication with your doctor can help deal with issues such as hypertension fall risk. 

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