Critter Corner: How Do You Effectively Advocate for Yourself in the Hospital?

Hayek 1Dear Hayek,

My father is undergoing treatments in the hospital. He depends on me when I am there, but I can’t be around as often as I would like to be because of my job. My father still has his wits about him, but he is widowed, so he is often alone at appointments, unless I am there. I suggested to him that he hire a patient advocate or advocate for himself at the hospital. He would like to try self-advocacy first, but he doesn’t know where to begin. Do you have any tips for self-advocating in a health care setting?

Thanks for your help!

Ed Vakating

Dear Ed,

When a loved one is in a hospital and undergoing treatments, dealing with all the doctors, staff, paperwork, insurance, and sometimes conflicting information can be difficult. One way to make navigating the system easier is by hiring a patient advocate to help (see today’s other article about finding a good patient advocate) or, as your father seems to prefer, by practicing what’s known as self-advocacy. This involves taking an active role in your own medical care and planning. Here are some tips you can share with your father that could help him when it comes to self-advocating in a health care setting:

  • Suggest that he learn to ask questions and get answers. Plan and write down questions before an appointment to avoid forgetting something. This will be critical to his best health outcomes.
  • Know his medical history, including past diagnoses or procedures, plus any current symptoms.
  • Always bring an up-to-date list of medications, over-the-counter drugs, and supplements to doctor’s appointments and the hospital. Bring summaries, too, from other medical appointments, because that may help inform his care.
  • Take notes at all appointments.
  • Be sure to ask how he can reach his doctor in an emergency and how he can get timely answers to questions that aren’t urgent.
  • Make sure that he has his legal documents in order and has chosen a health-care agent and has this recorded in his incapacity planning documents, and accessible if needed. The health-care agent he chooses should be someone who understands his wishes and can make decisions if he cannot.
  • Take the time to understand his health insurance, including learning which services and medications are covered and which are not.
  • Review his insurance plan to determine which medical facilities, such as hospitals or care communities, are in his network. Once he knows which facilities are in his network, he should take time to research these facilities to see which best meets his needs before he needs them.
  • Before he agrees to any significant procedure or treatment, ask for a second opinion. He may want to do the same if he thinks his concerns aren’t being addressed by the doctor.
  • Consider consulting a geriatrician. These doctors focus on what matters to older adults in their life and health.

If he chooses to look into a professional advocate, information is available in today’s Ask the Expert article. Either way, it is critical for him to have a plan to manage his health care.

I cannot stress how important it is to make sure that your father has his Advance Medical Directive and other incapacity planning documents in place and up-to-date and registered with a national database such as DocuBank.

This will ensure that his wishes are available, if the time comes when he can no longer make decisions for himself. If his Incapacity Planning documents are not in place or up-to-date, suggest that he make an appointment at the Farr Law Firm.

Hope this is helpful!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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