Patient-advocates employed by hospitals need to be trained in giving the patient what he is looking for
Times are changing, and hospitals, doctors and patients are changing too. As patients have become more savvy and demanding, there is a need for patient-advocates to fill in the service gaps that hospitals and doctors leave. While they may be great at performing complex surgical procedures, doctors are often not very good at providing tender loving care - and patients want to be hand-held when they are ill. This is something that patient-advocates can do efficiently.
A Patient Has the Right to Select Her Advocate
Sunita lives in an old-age home in Gurgaon, Delhi. Of late, her worsening vision and unsteady walk have meant that she spends more of her time indoors. Her daughter Kamla visits her a few times, every week. Kamla also takes her mother out for doctors’ appointments. During her first appointment, Sunita told her doctor, “Please communicate with my daughter on all health-related matters. My daughter makes all those decisions and I like it that way. She explains things in a way I can understand and, after all, she’s the one who takes me around to all of my tests and appointments.
Today, when hospitals advertise, they no longer flaunt their fancy buildings. Instead, they have photos of their diva brand name star surgeons, dressed in crisp white coats and stethoscopes, the idea being to entice patients with their pool of top medical experts. After all, healthcare is a service and hospitals want to position themselves as caring, credible service providers. Patients want to ensure that they get the best medical advice from the top expert in the field, in a safe, professionally-run hospital environment. As patients are becoming more aware, they are asserting their rights, and have begun to expect doctors and hospitals to take an interest in their well-being - and are willing to pay to get top-notch services.
The onus is now on doctors and their medical teams to ensure that they provide premium quality service, so they can build a relationship of trust with their patients. Doctors need to accept that patients are consumers who can get turned off by hospitals that offer poor-quality service - and go to the competing five-star hospital down the road.
Typically, hospitals are unfriendly places, which are designed for doctors and nurses - not for patients. Often the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing; there is little coordination; and patients are lost and confused. However, for patients to have a positive experience in the hospital, it’s important that they feel heard, understood and respected. One simple way patient advocates can do this is by collating
all medical updates and providing a summary daily report card on their state of health. A tech-savvy patient advocate can set-up an online patient portal, where family members can track the progress of the patient. Using Skype, the patient (or the advocate or the relatives in the hospital) can hold video conferences with friends and family members, wherever they may be located.
If you are not so ambitious, you can setup a simple Facebook page for the duration of your patient’s hospital stay, and this can serve as a very valuable online channel which friends and relatives can use to stay in touch; remain updated; and provide support, even if remotely. All you need to utilise this kind of a service is a laptop. This can be especially useful for critically-ill patients and their families. By providing such innovative, value-added features, you can establish yourself as a credible, state-of-the-art healthcare brand.
An effective patient-physician relationship creates:
- Mutual understanding between patient and physician, so both know what to expect from each other.
- A powerful resource for healing and comforting
- A learning resource for both parties
- A framework for maintaining open discussion, even when there is uncertainty about the medical outcome.
Good doctors act as advocates for their patients all the time – and are happy to treat patient advocates as partners.
Why hospitals are employing patient ad- vocates
Given the great value which patient advocates can add, forward thinking hospital CEOs are now investing in creating a team of patient advocates that patients can turn to in their time of need. Patient advocates report directly to the CEO and act as ombudsmen. Smart CEOs understand the value of improving the patient experience and know that patient advocates can play an important role in both monitoring this and in improving it. From that prominent and protected vantage point, patient advocates spearhead efforts to improve care by scrutinizing untoward patient experiences and advocating timely remedies. Patient advocates are well-connected within the hospital,
and are uniquely qualified to inform patients and their families of other services available to them while they are hospitalized, whether in terms of accessing additional health information at an onsite consumer health library, the availability of spiritual support services, or requesting a massage on your behalf. Patient advocates are very effective brand ambassadors, which show that the hospital is a caring service provider who puts patients first. Some hospitals assign a patient advocate to each patient at the time of admission. This can be very comforting for a patient who now has a trusted guide he can turn to in times of need.
Patient advocates employed by hospitals need to be trained in giving the patient what he is looking for. It could be information, excellent service, compassionate staff, or technical expertise. Let your patient-advocate forge partnerships that you can leverage as a service provider. Even though their salary is being paid by the hospital, their primary job is to delight patients.
Good patient advocates share hospital resources with patients freely and in a meaningful way. They must understand that their role is to give patients time and a listening ear.
They go the extra mile in reaching out to patients, especially during an emergency. A patient advocate can generate a lot of goodwill for the hospital by delighting patients !
The biggest worry an enlightened hospital CEO has is how to manage unhappy patients. Many patients may experience difficulties during their hospital stay, but are scared to articulate these. They have concerns that are never communicated because they are fearful of repercussions if they complain. They are afraid that the staff will label them as a complainer and treat them badly.
Hospitalization and illness can be very stressful for the patient and it’s common to experience emotions that may make it difficult for patients to express their needs and concerns. They are scared that they might break down and cry; lose their temper with a hospital staff member; feel intimidated and not say what they intended to; or be labeled as difficult, which is why they are scared to speak up.
They end up bottling their complaints, but this resentment can build up, and can be expressed as violence against the hospital staff, in case the patient suffers from a complication, or dies. Patients need someone other than the hospital staff to speak for them, which is where the patient advocate comes in. Bringing up concerns to the patient advocate is not viewed as being complaining or making waves – it is viewed as an opportunity to provide you with support, encouragement, and assistance.
Patient advocates are on call 24/7 - and their goal is to provide you and your family with the best possible experience during the hospital stay. A patient advocate is in hospital to help you – she is on your side and her job is to make sure you are happy, so make the most of her services.