Advocating for better patient care

Savvy patient

By Davis Cracroft, M.D., Union Tribune, AUG. 14, 2014

It’s crucial that advocates feel comfortable speaking up if they have questions or feel the need to seek more information regarding a diagnosis, medications or surgery recommendations. Medical errors can occur in even the most careful environments or seemingly optimal circumstances, and asking the right questions may help prevent unnecessary harm. To that end, patient advocates need to have good communication skills as well as the “people” skills to interact assertively yet respectfully with caregivers. An effective advocate functions as an integral part of the health care team.

In especially complex cases, patients may want to consider hiring a professional advocate to oversee their care. Individuals, organizations and agencies offer individual patient advocacy services, either as volunteers or for a fee. Many have backgrounds in medicine, nursing, and social work. Others may have served as advocates for family members and now offer their services professionally. Recently, several university-affiliated programs have begun offering certification programs in patient advocacy, but currently there are no recognized standards for such a credential.

In general, the more experienced and educated an advocate is, the greater the cost. However, it may be money well-spent to have an objective, trained professional looking out for the patient’s best interests. Effective advocates can facilitate more successful doctor-patient interaction. And most busy physicians appreciate having someone available to help patients better understand their care.

Davis Cracroft, M.D., specializes in emergency medicine with Scripps Health and serves as Senior Director of Medical Affairs, Scripps Mercy Hospital. He recently joined PAVE’s Advisory Counsel.