July 1, 2013

Your Advocacy Connection – Who Is Your Advocate?

By Julie Arndt
GolderCare Solutions

GolderCare Solutions solves long term care problems, and one of the services that we offer is Patient Advocacy. Patient advocacy isn’t unique to a certain population, but is critical across the life span. It changes as we age. It is as critical in our later years as it was when we were a toddler. One needs to ask who their advocate is.

When my children (now teenagers), were toddlers, I would take them to the doctor. It was assumed and acceptable for me to address the physician’s questions. As they have gotten older, those same questions have gradually been shifted directly to the children themselves. As a parent, it has at times been difficult to sit patiently, allowing the interview part of the exam to progress independent of my explanation. Naturally, still being their primary advocate, I occasionally interject critical details giving the physician full insight to the scope of the recent medical/symptom history. In the very near future, I will not be accompanying them to such appointments, and they hopefully have learned the best way to independently communicate those critical responses that ultimately contribute to our family physician being in a position to provide good medical care.

For the most part, we go through our adult life communicating our medical/physical ailments directly to our physician. There are times when that is not possible; such as, when you are in the hospital and are not able to communicate fully on your own behalf due to your condition or medication. I had surgery last year and was challenged to find my own voice as it relates to advocating for myself.

During testing, one week before the surgery, there was confusion between admitting and an auxiliary department regarding what test had been ordered. Apparently, the computers were not “talking to each other” properly. As it happens, my physician had been very clear to me what was needed, so I was able to clarify this to each of the hospital personnel I encountered. I was able to advocate for myself.

The day of the surgery arrived. For some reason, my husband wasn’t allowed to accompany me to pre-surgical area. At the time, I thought this was odd. Typically family is not only allowed to wait with the patient, but encouraged to do so. In addition to possibly calming the patient while he/she waits, it also can aid communication between patient, hospital staff and family. As it happens, I was able to see my husband for only minutes before the surgery. I made a mistake. I should have insisted that my husband accompany me initially into the pre-surgical waiting area. He was my advocate that day, and it was important to me to have him there and to be part of the process.

Post surgically, it is imperative to have your advocate there to be your voice. When you are medicated, you are not yourself. You need someone who knows you and can ask on your behalf. For some reason, I was placed in my room after surgery, and only later was my family brought in. Again, one should have their advocate with them every possible step of the way.

I could give details and examples of why this is so very important, but this is the bottom line: Advocacy is key to a person getting the care they need, regardless of their age. I advocate every day for our clients and typically do a pretty good job of advocating for myself; however, when I was most vulnerable, caught off guard by a standard hospital practice, I was not quick enough to find my voice. If you are having a procedure or surgery, I strongly recommend you take an advocate with you who can be with you at each step and be your voice when you cannot find your own.

Julie Arndt is a licensed social worker working in the field of geriatrics for over twenty five years with expertise in medical case management and community based services.