Patient advocates are experts at connecting the dots in healthcare. What may seem daunting to patients and families is the business of advocacy. A client said to me once, “ trying to get through the system from appointments to insurance issues makes me dizzy”. There are so many dots to connect for patients, the whole picture often seems askew. An advocate has the capacity to visualize how each aspect of care needs to be connected and in what way.
A common denominator is medical professionals not talking to each other. It seems specialists don’t communicate regularly with primary doctors. I find if doctors are a part of the same network, using the same medical record, there is a possibility information flows better. There are some medical network systems in Boston, like Partners and Beth Israel that have all the doctors, records linked. Patient also have access to this information. However, if you see a medical professional outside the network, the communication is likely to breakdown.
In these types of situations, it is the patient who suffers. I had a situation where a client was seen at Mayo Clinic with treatment to occur locally. I had initiated the contact at Mayo and continued to make sure information flowed in a timely way. What surprised me was the local doctors just didn’t communicate regularly with the Mayo doctor. When treatments were finished or adjusted and symptoms were returning, nothing was done. It was left up to me to communicate and get people talking. That is how an advocate connects the dots in care. It wasn’t about the care which was good, it was about communication and follow up. Had my client not had an advocate, the symptoms would have increased without resolution. Treatment protocol would not have been adjusted.
Advocates make sure information flows and care is not slowed. The medical profession needs to recognize the value of having patient advocates as partners. The role is not about judging the person or treatment but keeping the systems and information flowing so patients can receive optimal care in a timely fashion. I like to think, patient advocates help reduce the cost of healthcare by identifying the needs, assessing overcharges and streamlining care. Patient advocates do connect the dots and keep the healthcare system from making patients too dizzy and stressed.