Sy Simms coined the phrase, An Educated Consumer is Our Best Customer. Today this is true not only in the retail industry but also in healthcare. Because quality, safety, and value are tied to hospital and physician reimbursement rates, patients have a great deal of power as a key member of the healthcare team.
The problem is most patients don’t know they have this power or how to use their power effectively. In this week’s post, I want to share 10 tips I learned during my healthcare journey that helped me to be an empowered patient who is active in my care. I hope they help you as well.
- Recognize that you need help when you enter the complex healthcare system. As a nurse of over 40 years, I thought I knew how the system works. But becoming a patient who was impaired cognitively for the first few weeks of my healthcare encounter taught me that regardless of my experience, I needed an advocate. Having someone with you is critical to ensure you are safe and have a voice in your care. Your advocate can be a family member or friend who has the time to accompany you to medical appointments and visit you in the hospital. As most family members and friends are busy, you may need more than one person to step in as your advocate. So take time to look at your circle of family and friends to see who you want to help you. Talking to them ahead of time about your wishes is important. Sharing your advanced directives and letting the people who will advocate for you understand your wishes is important so they know what matters most to you. Five Wishes is a tool that will get you started. Click here to learn more.
- If you don’t have a friend or family member who can advocate for you, consider hiring a professional patient advocate. A professional patient advocate can help you in a number of ways. For example, they can help you coordinate your care, do research on your condition and help you find providers who can treat you when in need. They can also review your medical bills and question items that might not seem right to you. If care has been denied by your insurance company professional patient advocates can investigate the reason for the denial with your insurance company. To put hiring a professional patient advocate into perspective that will make sense, think of how you hire an accountant to handle your taxes or an attorney when you need representation in a court of law. A professional patient advocate works for you to help you navigate the complex healthcare system and ensure you have a voice in your care. They represent you and your wishes to the healthcare team and to the payer. Finding an advocate is getting easier as they are starting to write articles on what they do in the main press and there are professional organizations who offer directories where you can search to find an advocate in your area. Currently, the Patient Advocate Certification Board is developing a national certification for those who specialize in the area of Patient Advocacy. To learn more, visit the website The certification will be a way consumers can find an advocate who has the credentials to do the work they do.
- Get involved in your healthcare organization. One way to do this is to be involved in their Patient and Family Advisory Council. Doing so allows the organization understand the needs of patients and caregivers who use the health system. Today, quality, safety, and the patient experience are tied to reimbursement that adds to revenue of hospitals and doctors’ offices when outcomes are positive. Understanding the patients and the caregivers perspective helps them to improve the work they do. If you want to be involved, ask the charge nurse on the floor where you are admitted if the hospital has a Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC) and how you can volunteer your time. I participate in the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center Patient and Family Advisory Council. It is a good way for me to share my experience, learn from others and make improvements to the system that will benefit all.
- Complete surveys that you get after a visit. People pay attention to these survey’s so take a few minutes to give your opinion. Be honest with your input and offer a suggestion for improvement if you have a complaint.
- Ask to see the Face Sheet when you are admitted to the hospital. The reason for you to review this document is that many times the information is wrong. The face sheet is where many people go for information on you. When admitted to the hospital, at a doctor’s appointment, or when getting a diagnostic test, review the information on the face sheet so you can make sure the information is correct.
- Don’t be afraid to call your doctor: If you get a fever, notice a rash or feel sick, call your doctor. Don’t worry if it is after hours or on a weekend. Your doctor wants to hear from you. If they are not available they will have someone on call who can call you back and give you direction. If you can’t get your doctor, go to the urgent care center or emergency department. This is especially true if you are receiving chemotherapy or getting other types of treatment that can leave you open to serious infections if not recognized early.
- Prepare for your appointments. If you are in the hospital, prepare for rounds (when the team comes to your room). Write down any questions or concerns you have. No question is stupid or unnecessary. Your healthcare team cannot anticipate every problem so sharing your concerns, what is troubling to you or a question that you have is the only way they have to meet your individual needs. This is also important when you go to the doctor’s office or for a therapy visit. Having your list of questions will help you have a productive appointment.
- Get familiar with your patient portal. The patient portal is a way for you to communicate with your doctors and access many of your medical records. Check to see if your doctor has a patient portal system and how you can access it. If you are at a large healthcare system, they usually have a patient portal that makes checking on lab or other diagnostic tests easier. In addition, your insurance company will also have a portal that you can review bills and ask questions related to your insurance. These are important tools that you can use to be actively involved in your care.
- Keep your own records. Get a binder and put copies of your medical records into the binder. Having your records in the binder will allow you to pull out a document the team may not have seen, keep your team informed, and avoid duplication and medical errors.
- Remember that YOU, the patient, is the only constant in the healthcare system so it is up to YOU to be an active participant in YOUR care. If you have an idea on how you have advocated for yourself, please share so others can learn.
Have a good week.