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Patient Advocacy: What to do when a loved one is hospitalized

Bonnie Friedman Professional Communicator Bonnie Friedman Strategic Communications, LLC

When someone you love has to go to the hospital, your life changes. Suddenly, old priorities no longer seem important, and pressing, new demands take hold. Your number one job becomes helping your loved one get better. That means you are an advocate, helping to ensure that the patient gets the best medical care possible.

To be an effective advocate, you need to be informed, organized and determined. Here is some advice to help you get started.


Do learn as much as you can about your loved one’s condition

Do research online or in the library. Seek out advocacy organizations, medical experts or other patients in the same situation. There are many resources available, but they are generally not all in one place. So you may have to do some hunting. The more you know, the better you will be able to talk to the doctors and nurses, understand options and help your loved one make informed choices.

Do ask lots of questions

When you talk to doctors and nurses, find out as much as you can about your loved one’s prognosis and treatment plan, risks and benefits involved, or options that might be considered. Ask for a second opinion if you think one is needed. Doctors who practice patient-centered medicine welcome input from both patients and their families.

Do carry a notebook at all times

Jot down names of doctors and nurses as well as phone numbers for contacting them. Keep track of changes in medications or treatment plans. Take notes when talking to the doctors and nurses. And write down questions as you think of them to ask the next time you have the chance. You want to make the most of each opportunity.

Do follow hospital rules

Be mindful of rules regarding visiting hours, length of visits, handwashing and other precautions such as wearing face masks, gloves or gowns. Most procedures are in place for good reason. It is okay to question a rule or ask for an exception if it is reasonable, such as extended visiting times. But remember that the ultimate goal is the patient’s well-being, not your own convenience.

Do take care of yourself

Get plenty of sleep, eat well and take breaks. Make time for stress-busters such as talking with a friend, working out at the gym or taking a yoga class. Even short walks or lunch outside the hospital can work wonders in giving you fresh perspective. Sure, you want to be at the hospital as much as possible, but you can’t be there 24/7. Besides, if you fall apart, who will be there for your loved one?


Do not be intimidated by medical professionals

They have the training and expertise, but you know the patient better than anyone else, including his or her medical history. Many people are afraid to speak up or question a doctor’s orders or advice. However, your involvement and input are as critical as anything else to your loved one’s recovery.

Do not assume that admission forms and medical records are correct

Errors can occur on intake forms during admission, and medical records – even electronic ones – are not always complete and up to date. Missing or incorrect information can be critical to your loved one’s well-being. Ask to review forms and records for accuracy and completeness.

Do not hesitate to speak up if you think something is not right

Serious mistakes are uncommon, but they happen. Patients can get the wrong medication or an incorrect dose, the wrong blood in a transfusion, or even the wrong part of the body scheduled for surgery. Go over the details with your loved one, the doctors and nurses. Don’t keep concerns to yourself.

Do not leave without providing contact information

When you leave the hospital or even your loved one’s room, provide contact information so nurses or doctors can reach you if necessary. Some hospital rooms have white boards where you can add your contact information. If you leave the surgical waiting room or intensive care unit, be sure medical staff can find you. It is okay to go; just make sure you leave your phone number behind.

Do not be afraid to ask for help

Your loved one’s hospitalization is a stressful and demanding time for you. Friends and family are often eager to assist, but may not know what you need. Ask for help with research on your loved one’s condition, walking the dog, running errands, feeding or transporting the kids, and anything else you think would make life a little easier.

Jumping cartoon

When a loved one is hospitalized, it is easy to be overwhelmed, frightened or stressed. These are normal emotions, but they can get in your way, preventing you from managing and doing your best. The more you can take control of the situation by staying knowledgeable, organized and focused, the better you will be able to cope. And the better you take care of yourself, the better you will be able to advocate effectively for your loved one.

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Bonnie FriedmanProfessional Communicator

Bonnie is a professional communicator specializing in patient advocacy, worker safety and health, and related issues. Prior to starting her own business several years ago, she served as Communications Director of the Occupational Safety and Heal...

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