Mary is a 65-year old diabetic patient. She has visible wounds on her feet that are healing very slowly because of diabetes. One day, Mary developed a fever, headache, and fatigue. The physician is considering flu. But Beth, Mary’s caregiver had noticed earlier that Mary has a reddish spot with reddish on her leg. She thought that Mary had gotten a new wound, but the red spot looked different. Although the spot looked harmless, Beth decided to mention it to Mary’s doctor.
The physician was thankful because the reddish spot was caused by a tick bite when they had a picnic in a wooded area. Apparently, the patient has Lyme’s disease. If not for Beth’s vigilance and her decision to mention it to the doctor, Mary’s condition could have gotten worse. Mary could not have felt the tick bite because diabetes has impaired her ability to feel sensations in her feet at times. Beth has proven her ability of being a patient advocate.
Being sick is a nasty feeling. Aside from the physical pain and functional impairment that a patient has, illness brings about feelings of vulnerability, distress, and inability to focus on anything else other than their symptoms.
An illness can even cause total dependence on another person, especially if the patient’s physical and mental health has deteriorated significantly. In situations such as these, the caregiver becomes the patient’s eyes and ears, their voice, and their analyst who would see to the patient’s welfare and best interest, as they go through the maze of the healthcare system.
Needless to say, the role of being a patient advocate is inherent to caregiving and one of the most significant responsibilities that the caregiver will have to perform to be successful.
Being an advocate for your loved one entails two basic things, the ability to learn and the ability to communicate effectively.
What do you need to learn as a patient advocate?
Know your patient, their preferences, and their needs. Most importantly, a caregiver must learn about the patient's illness as much as they can, and how the disease can possibly impact the patient's life. The knowledge gained from knowing the patient this way will be helpful when working with the healthcare team, and in seeking treatments and other services.
In many cases, being extra vigilant of what the patient is going through can save their lives. As in our case example, Beth knew that the spot was not on Mary’s foot previously and that it looked different. Beth’s attentiveness to Mary’s symptom kept Mary from harm’s way.
Know what resources are available to you. Remember that you don't have to be alone in caring for the patient. Find support and community services and programs that will be useful in caring for your loved one. Determine ahead of time which health institutions would best serve your loved one's needs.
When and how do you communicate effectively as a patient advocate?
As a caregiver, you need to be able to gather and provide information at the same time. You have to determine which information is important to obtain and make a habit of writing things down. This holds true when communicating with the patient, the healthcare team, and even the insurance personnel.
Effective communication is crucial during a clinic visit. Your ability to provide information to the physician and receive information from the physician will be a big help to you as a pro-active patient advocate. When providing information, be concise and direct to the point. Do not be afraid to ask questions and seek clarification if there is some detail that you don’t understand. It is wise to prepare your questions before the visit. Do not make assumptions or jump to conclusions. Let the physician know your concerns. Again, it is more than helpful to jot things down.
Being a patient advocate as a caregiver is no ordinary work, but you are considered the unsung hero of the patient, and the healthcare system as a whole. You have to keep the fire burning inside you and do what you do best: providing care.
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