The lure of warm weather in winter has many of us who are retired going south for the winter. Some of us have relocated to warmer parts of the world. Many of us have parents who have chosen the warmer climate. And as long as everyone remains healthy, this living arrangement works well.
What happens, however, when a parent gets sick and the children are hundreds or even thousands of miles away? Who will deal with the crisis and how will it be dealt with? What if hospitalization and long term care is needed? How will the children manage their parent’s care and still deal with their own young children, jobs and everyday needs from so far away.
Recently, a new and much needed profession has surfaced. It is that of a patient advocate. This is a professional whose job it is to make sure your parents get the care they need, when you cannot be there. They know how to navigate the health care system and are familiar with medical tests and their implications. They can speak to the doctors for you and help monitor the patient’s progress while keeping you abreast with the situation.
I recently received a letter from one such person. This is how she describes what she does.
“In my business, I accompany elderly patients to the emergency rooms of local hospitals, to the doctor’s offices, and traveling, as well. These services are particularly valuable to elderly people who live alone here, and their children live up north. When an elderly person lives alone and needs to navigate the healthcare system without the help of a family member, it can be a difficult and frightening experience. I am an RN with a BSN and MS.
I am also a Registered Legal Nurse Consultant. I have over 33 years of experience as a healthcare professional. I have a great deal more education and professional experience than a patient advocate. Historically, a patient advocate has been an individual who works in a hospital and speaks up on behalf of the patient/family for hospital services that need to be attended to.
My role as a nurse consultant involves educating the patient/family regarding the doctor’s therapeutic regimen, coordinating healthcare services, overseeing emergency services when needed, and acting as a liaison between the patient, doctor, and out-of-town family members. I function as a healthcare provider, advisor and coordinator, which is different from a patient advocate.
There are many elderly people who live alone, here in South Florida. As soon as they arrive here, the out-of-town family should make sure that their mother/father has a local doctor. In the event of a medical emergency, the doctor can be notified and the patient will already be familiar to the doctor, and the doctor will be familiar to the patient. Too often, that connection is not made, and when a crisis occurs, the elderly patient has to navigate the complicated waters of the healthcare system alone.
As part of my work I would share with the family the doctor’s therapeutic regimen, including treatments and medications. If the elderly patient needs to go to an emergency room because of a medical emergency, I will stay with him/her until they are admitted to their room. Throughout their emergency room stay, I will call the out-of-town family with periodic updates so they will know the status of their loved one.”
There are patient advocates in most of the warm states where may of us like to winter or live. The way they conduct their jobs may not be exactly as our letter writer. But basically they are there to advocate for and be there for you and your loved one when family members cannot be there.
Many (like our Floridian writer) will speak to groups on important topics such as health maintenance and disease prevention, family medical history, safe administration of medications, your medical chart, mental health, understanding your insurance payments and denials, medical tests, what your doctor is looking for, and other topics of common concern.
Patient advocates are also a good idea for anyone living alone anywhere. One does not have to have children or wait for their children to hire an advocate for them. It is a gift you can give yourself if you’re concerned that the need may arise when you are far from anyone who can help.
It is also something for well spouses to consider engaging for themselves, if their partners are unable to help them in an emergency and their children do not live nearby.
Note: I have no personal knowledge of the letter writer or her business. Publishing parts of her letter should not be considered an endorsement but a sharing of a relatively new and much-needed profession, and is a place to start should you have the need of such services.
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org