I get many calls from family members or friends who are planning to advocate for one another and want to know some tips or rules. Some just feel they would be good at bedside advocacy. They may want to make a living at being a patient advocate and to that I say “go for it”. It is an important need in healthcare and as many people who work in healthcare will tell you, don’t go to the hospital alone.

But, what makes someone good? I listen for buzz words during our conversation. When someone says they know what a patient wants, that can’t be true. We don’t know unless we ask. Does the advocate have certain ideas of what the best treatment is or do they have nursing skills? The advocate is not there to take the place of the nurse or doctor. The advocate is there to see that the patient’s needs are met. 

If a nurse is the advocate and the patient does not understand the procedure about to take place, the nurse advocate may easily say “don’t worry, I will tell you later”. As a patient’s advocate, with no nursing background, I will watch the patient’s face for clues that he or she doesn’t understand. Then, I will ask the patient if they understand. If not, I will ask the doctor to explain it again.

It is easier for me to feel confident when asking the doctor to take time to explain. The patient is very often intimidated, scared or just not thinking. “Let the doctor take care of me. Why do I need to ask questions?” Wouldn’t that be so easy? And it can be. As long as an advocate is a strong partner, courteous and understanding, chances are the patient will have all their needs met.

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