Between a sudden illness, an ER visit, a hospital stay, recovery at home, multiple doctor visits and the shocking medical bill, you need a powerful ally.
Today, you’re feeling good, your family is healthy and you haven’t a health care in the world. Tomorrow, that all changes.
Someone falls, breaks a hip and acquires an infection while in the hospital.
A spouse is diagnosed with a serious illness that requires a specialist.
You suffer a heart attack and are transported to the emergency room.
All of a sudden, you’re in healthcare hell without a roadmap to show you the way out. Now what?
With the complexities of the U.S. healthcare system today, there is growing demand for private patient advocates, whose mission it is to help patients tackle the complex healthcare system, help patients and their families to offload some of the bureaucratic stress and to instead focus on getting well.
Here are some of the ways a private patient advocate can help in scary healthcare scenarios.
In the Emergency Room
When you go to the ER, you are evaluated for the seriousness of your condition, and if they don’t think you’re in imminent danger, you may have to wait. And wait.
Meanwhile, you’re scared, which is making your pulse race; your breathing become erratic and your heart beat faster.
A patient advocate, particularly one with a background as a nurse or paramedic, can monitor your symptoms and alert the powers-that-be to your condition.
I once had an older client in the ER who had become so dehydrated that her kidneys were in danger of shutting down.
As a former critical care nurse, I was able to get her the attention she needed.
In the Hospital
You or a loved-one are being treated for an illness or have undergone surgery, but there’s still pain, fever or other symptoms, and you don’t think you’re getting straight answers from the doctors and nurses.
A private patient advocate – as long as they’re equipped with your authorization under HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) – can ask the right questions to obtain the answers you need.
Good patient advocates communicate with healthcare providers in their language and translate for you.
They also know how to be succinct in their questions and persistent in getting the answers.
I’ve had so many experiences helping clients in their home setting.
Very often, it’s a child who contacts me because they’re concerned about mom or dad, who may be living on their own far from any family.
Patient advocates are trained in evaluating a home situation.
- Are there trip hazards?
- Is the elderly client getting enough nutrition?
- Do they need help with their ADLs – activities of daily living such as bathing, toileting, dressing and eating?
- Do they have untreated hypertension or are they exhibiting signs of dementia?
We are then able to coordinate with the children to obtain needed care.
I’ve even stepped in when a financial adviser or attorney suspects that a client may be experiencing emotional, physical or financial abuse at the hands of a “caregiver.”
At the Doctor’s Office
During the typical doctor’s appointment, a patient has a lot of information thrown at them – results of blood work, prescription for a new medication, recommendation to see a specialist.
I always advise taking someone with you to appointments to take notes, ask questions and help a patient remember later what was said.
A private patient advocate is a great resource for this type of assistance, and with their typical background in healthcare, they can drill down on questions with the healthcare provider, get more complete answers and help understand what’s next.
At the Billing Office
What is scarier than a hospital bill? I always advise clients to never pay the first bill they receive from a hospital and to ask for a detailed bill, which they have a legal right to.
It’s estimated that 80 percent or more of hospital bills contain errors, and a patient advocate can be called upon to review bills, talk to an insurance company – and possibly save their client some money.
Is a patient advocate worth the expense?
Many advocates charge hourly rates beginning in the neighborhood of $100 per hour all the way up to nearly $500 an hour.
While it may seem expensive, a good patient advocate can help save thousands in medical bills – or even save a life.
Teri Dreher, RN, CCM, is the founder of NShore Patient Advocates. A critical care nurse for 35+ years, she’s also the founder of Seniors Alone Guardianship and Advocacy Services, a nonprofit organization serving senior orphans and disabled adults. She’s the author of “How to Advocate for Yourself & Your Loved Ones,” available on Amazon.
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