A Good Patient Advocate Can Be the Difference Between Life and Death

A Good Patient Advocate Can Be the Difference Between Life and Death

When it comes to healthcare, communication is vital. Doctors and nurses need an accurate description of a patient’s symptoms in order to make a diagnosis and provide the appropriate care.

This is particularly vital for people with disabilities, who could be taking other medications or experiencing complications that could factor into a doctor’s analysis. Unfortunately, those same disabilities can also make it more difficult to communicate, especially if the healthcare staff is not familiar with the patient.  

That’s why it’s important for people with debilitating communication issues to make sure they have a good patient advocate. In plain terms, a patient advocate is a support worker who is familiar with the patient and their communication patterns, whether they be verbal or non-verbal. That person can then act as the patient’s representative, both to interpret the things they say and to navigate the medical system to make sure that their patient receives the proper treatment. 

For a patient without a good advocate, the results can be disastrous. For example, a British Columbia woman with cerebral palsy was admitted to the Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock in the early stages of the pandemic. Even though the woman did not have COVID-19, in accordance with new policies that were put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the hospital barred her family and her support workers from the hospital.

Due to her disability, the woman communicated primarily with facial expression and eye movements. Without her regular attendants, the woman had no way to interact with the hospital staff. She was eventually put on life support and died in the hospital at the age of 40.

The province modified its policies for essential hospital visitors in response to the incident, but it nevertheless demonstrates why good representation is so important. A good patient advocate can be a literal lifesaver if they can convey essential information to the doctors.

It can also have benefits that go well beyond basic communication skills. The Canadian medical system is a massive bureaucracy, and even the healthiest individuals may have trouble filling out forms or tracking down the specialists who will best be able to speak to their condition. Those tasks are far more intimidating for people with disabilities. A patient advocate will be well versed in healthcare procedure. They can use that experience to set up appointments, and then talk to the doctor to ensure that everything goes well once the patient arrives.

Either way, a patient advocate is a key member of the support team for many people with disabilities. That’s ultimately why it may be worth considering if you have been struggling with the ins and outs of the healthcare system.  
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