How to Be an Advocate for Yourself and Your Loved Ones in the Hospital
When you or a loved one goes in for surgery, you have an important job to do: Be an advocate. To do that, you need to understand that role. So, what does it mean to be an advocate?
In today’s busy, complicated healthcare environment, it’s not enough for patients to come in to the hospital and trust their healthcare providers to take care of them. While healthcare providers do the best they can, patients and their family members also need to be active members of the healthcare team.
Being an advocate means participating in the care that you or your loved one gets in the hospital. No one else will be able to pay as close attention to the care that you’re getting, or to spend as much time in your hospital room as you will. Being an advocate means sticking up for yourself, and it means taking responsibility for making sure that the people taking care of you do some things that they’re supposed to do.
At first, you might be concerned that speaking up might offend the doctors and nurses caring for you. As a member of a surgical team, I know we can get busy and distracted, and I always appreciate it when patients or their family members ask good questions to show that they’re looking out for themselves. We may not always have the time to answer all your questions right away, but you should expect your healthcare team to address your concerns in a timely way.
Some patients are concerned that their healthcare team will think that they are obnoxious or demanding if they ask questions or remind their team about their particular needs. So long as you respect basic rules of politeness and understand that your team may not be able to meet every need right away, that’s almost never a problem.
Here are some basic things that patients and family members can do. As always, this isn’t a complete list. But by asking these questions, you’ll show your team that you’re paying attention to the details, and remind them that they should, too.
The most important thing is to be sure that if you have a question: Ask. Because your surgery team or nurse may not be immediately available when you have a question, keep a pen and paper near you, and write your questions down when you think of them so that they’re immediately on hand when your team comes by.
Jonathan Emerson Kohler, MD, MA, is a senior resident in General Surgery at the University of Washington. A writer and former journalist, he holds an MD with honors from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree in health communications from Emerson College. He is particularly interested in improving the way surgeons communicate with their patients, and in studying how improved communication can lead to better outcomes. You can follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jekohler.