Friday, August 30, 2013

Patient Advocacy in India - giving voice to the patient

Advocacy is an unfamiliar word in the Indian healthcare sector. For most people, the word advocate conjures up the image of a lawyer - and for most doctors, an advocate is the dreaded enemy who files lawsuits for medical negligence against them.

In reality, an advocate is just someone who stands up for you and helps you in claiming your rights. Parents, for example, have always been advocates for their children. How does this apply to the healthcare field?
Our 4th Annual Putting Patients First conference  will be held on 16 Nov, Nehru Center, Worli, Mumbai
Darius Khambatta, Advocate General, Maharashtra, will be Chief Guest and KeyNote Speaker; and we will be releasing our book – Patient Advocacy – Giving Voice to Patients, at this time.

Check out

When you fall ill, you are likely to be lost and confused. While your doctor can help provide you with medical care, patients need a lot more than just prescriptions and pills. They need:
     Emotional support and hand holding
     Help with doing research to explore options and verify that the doctor’s advice is correct
     A guide who acts as a sounding board
     Help with filling up forms and claiming reimbursement from the insurance company
     Help with talking with doctors, co-ordinating care with a team of specialists, getting a second opinion and navigating a hospital’s labyrinthine maze

VIPs get all this as a matter of right of course, but ordinary patients don’t. In the past, the role of a patient-advocate was automatically assigned to the elders in the family, who had a lot of experience. Today, with the breakup of the traditional joint family structure, this role is best discharged by trained professionals. As healthcare becomes increasingly complex and expensive, patient advocacy has evolved into a new discipline. While there are few professional patient advocates, all of us perform this function when we help to take care of someone who is ill , but because it is such an unfamiliar role, we may not know how to perform it effectively . As we all know, doctors and hospitals can be intimidating !

When you are ill, you need someone who will talk for you and talk to you - an independent trusted, wise advisor, who is empathetic and rational enough to help you to take the right decisions. Patient advocates function as a communication bridge between doctors and patients and help patients to access quality medical care. A patient advocate will make you feel safe and well-cared for during your difficult hour because he will go that extra mile to make sure that you get the best care possible.  He provides a ''by your side'' service, in which he shadows you to ensure you have an ''extra set of eyes and ears'' monitoring your care.

In a perfect world, there should be no need for a patient advocate, since doctors, by the very nature of their job, are already advocates for their patients. Unfortunately, the need for a patient advocate arises all too often, because doctors and patients no longer seem to be one the same page. There are several reasons for this.

First, doctors are extremely pressed for time. When you know that you have a waiting room full of patients, it’s very difficult to engage in an open-ended conversation with one patient. It’s much easier to announce the diagnosis, pronounce the treatment and send the patient on his way, no matter if he is confused or distraught. Doctors just don’t have the luxury of time to be able to hand-hold their patients anymore, or give them a shoulder to cry on.

Second, doctors love using medical gobbledygook and often forget the impact their words have on their patients. The doctor might think she has done a good job, when the reality is that the patient was so distraught by the diagnosis that he could not neither process the information provided or understand the doctor’s medical jargon.

Finally, many doctors are simply not paying as much attention to their patient as they should. They order too many tests, don’t look at all the results and don’t listen to what the patient is telling them. These doctors can become very attentive when they realize that someone else who is knowledgeable is monitoring a patient’s care.

Patient advocates provide a variety of benefits:
  • Many have medical training and some are doctors. Knowing that another medical professional is watching over a patient's care often makes a doctor more careful.
  • Patient advocates can interpret complex medical information for patients. Some doctors simply can't or won't explain things in a way that a patient can understand.
  • Patient advocates can transmit important information back to the physician in a way that the doctor can understand. Patients, often because they are upset, have trouble communicating their needs or getting to the point. Since patient advocates have medical knowledge, they can sift out irrelevant information and quickly provide the doctor with an effective summary.
  • Patient advocates can brainstorm with physicians in a way that the patient cannot, so that they can forge a partnership which helps the patient to get the best possible medical care.
Our new book, Patient Advocay - Giving Voice to Patients, explains what patient advocacy is, what patient advocates do and how they do it. Anyone who is ill or wants to help a person who is ill will find this book a useful resource.

We all need a helping hand when we are sick.

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