Hospital visits often are stressful and confusing for patients and their loved ones. Fortunately, help is available from patient advocates. These hospital employees specialize in making the hospital journey go as smoothly as possible for patients and their families.
What patient advocates do
Patient advocates are a primary liaison between patients and the hospital. The advocates are there to help patients and their families or caregivers resolve problems they encounter at the hospital.
Patient advocates’ job descriptions vary from hospital to hospital, as do their titles. They may be known as patient representatives, patient liaisons, consumer advocates, crisis resolution specialists, or ombudsmen.
Whatever the job title, the patient advocate is responsible for addressing patients’ concerns, complaints, or grievances. In fact, all hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission are required to have a complaint resolution process that includes advocates.
At The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, for example, every person who is hospitalized or receives care as an outpatient is assigned a patient advocate.
“We meet with new patients during their first appointment,” said Jaymesson Bezerra, a patient advocate at MD Anderson. “We want to make sure they know their rights and responsibilities and have clear expectations.”
Patient advocates provide a much needed service. According to Mr. Bezerra, last year patient advocates at MD Anderson met face-to-face with approximately 16,500 new patients and handled 19,000 requests for assistance and 5,000 complaints.
How patient advocates help
In addition to giving patients an opportunity to express their complaints or concerns in a confidential setting, the patient advocates provide information about available resources, services, and patient rights and responsibilities.
Patients can contact their patient advocate directly to discuss a concern. These concerns vary widely. Many patients seek help with communication, scheduling, or wait times. Some patients need to have a hospital bill explained. Others are worried about the course of their treatments or the medications they’re receiving.
Patient advocates listen and offer appropriate help. They can explain hospital policies and procedures, assist in finding community services, provide information on insurance coverage, and discuss concerns the patient has about follow-up care at home.
A typical day for a patient advocate might include meeting new patients in the clinic, investigating and documenting inpatient or outpatient complaints, and meeting with the appropriate hospital staff members to try to resolve the issues.
Patient complaints might involve anything from a conflict with a hospital staff member to dissatisfaction with medical care. The patient advocate first listens carefully to the patient’s or family member’s concerns. Sometimes the advocate has the information needed to deal with the situation immediately. If not, the advocate will investigate further and ultimately try to solve the problem.
This could mean talking with other staff members or contacting an attending physician to resolve the patient’s issue. Collaboration—knowing whom to contact to help solve the patient’s problem—is a major part of the advocate’s job.
“We want to make sure the line of communication is clear between a patient and the medical team,” Mr. Bezerra said.
Following up on all complaints after their resolution is also part of the patient advocate’s job. If the patient feels that issues still need to be investigated and dealt with, the advocate will take further action.
The patient advocate also analyzes the complaints to determine if there is a pattern indicating a need for a change in hospital policy or procedures. If there is, the advocate works with other departments and the hospital administration to implement the changes.
Above all, the patient advocate treats the patient with dignity, respect, and consideration and acts on the patient’s behalf. Mr. Bezerra said, “We can be a voice for the patient.”
For more information, talk to your physician or visit www.mdanderson.org. MD Anderson patients can call the Department of Patient Advocacy and Guest Relations at 713-792-7776.
OncoLog, July 2015, Volume 60, Issue 7