Not everyone is meant to be a patient’s advocate. Sometimes it can take a whole community or a few different people, with different skills to help. You will often read about what an advocate should do. But there are some things they should not do. Although there is usually a place for everyone to help, there are some very specific things the patient’s advocate should not do.
Here is my list of the top 10 reasons you should not be the patient’s advocate.
You should NOT be a patient’s advocate if:
1) You are “self appointed”. The patient needs to have a say who they want with them when they are sick or injured. Just because you want to do it, doesn’t mean the patient wants you there. A spouse may be the best comfort for the patient but also may make the patient nervous when addressing medical professionals. A spouse, parent or friend who is too aggressive may just upset the situation. Have the conversation about being an advocate before it is needed; similar to discussing being a healthcare proxy.
2) You play “can you top this?" A patient’s advocate should not be talking about their own problems, aches or pains. He / she should not say things like “When I had that surgery…” or “When I used that medication”. If a patient wants your opinion, they will ask, otherwise bite your tongue. Keep your stories to yourself. It’s not about you.
3) You can’t “just” listen. Don’t interrupt, let the patient share a full thought and idea. Even if they stop to think and it takes what seems like a long time to finish a thought, don’t finish their sentences for them.
4) You are set in your ideas and opinion. If you don’t think the patient should have that surgery or needs the procedure, unless the patient asks for your opinion, you shouldn’t give it. You may want to instead encourage the patient to get a second opinion, help with research or learn why a patient wants the surgery or procedure being recommended. If it’s because the doctor said so, explore how you can help seek additional recommendations from medical professionals.
5) You want to tell the patient “you should…”. To help someone who is sick or injured is not to tell them what they should do, but instead, offer to help them do it. Instead of saying “You should get another opinion” say something like “do you want me to help you find another doctor we can trust for another opinion” or “Do you want me to do some research on that disease?”
6) You can’t read or write. The patient will be given many things to read. You will have to be prepared to help which may mean reading for the patient. Consent forms, instructions, or even the patient’s rights are all things that you, as an advocate should be prepared to help with. Writing instructions, the patient’s questions to prepare for the doctor’s visit means you, the advocate needs to know how to write clearly.
7) You are too emotionally invested in the patient. A parent or spouse may be the best person to comfort a patient, but may not be the best advocate. The patient’s family should be encouraged to call in someone from the outside who is less attached. Especially when there may be problems arising. Thinking clearly may mean stepping away from the situation for a moment. A parent who has not had enough sleep or a spouse fearful of their future may not be seeing things clearly.
8) You are afraid to speak up or get intimidated easily. Although this can be overcome with practice, if you are not going to speak up to the doctor if the patient has a concern or you see something that concerns you, do the shopping or bake a cake for the family instead.
9) You don’t have a plan. Just showing up at the hospital isn’t enough to be an advocate. You need to know why you are there. Did the patient ask you to do something specific? Take notes, organize medication lists, read consent forms? Know what you can do for the patient and then do it.
10) If you are using nursing or medical skills. If you are a nurse, and are providing nursing care, that is not the same as a patient’s advocate. Nursing care is a very specific skill and should not be confused with a patient advocate. A patient’s advocate should be building the relationship between the medical community and the patient (and patient’s family) not replacing that relationship.
You can register Here for patient advocacy training.