This article “What is an Advocate?” was written for this blog by

Rhonda Caudell RN, CCM

In simple terms, “Patient” implies someone who is sick or ill. “Advocate” is defined in the World English Dictionary as someone who intercedes on behalf of another. The Greek word for Advocate is Parakletos defined as one who pleads another’s cause or helps one by defending or comforting him, a comforter.

As this all relates to Seniors or the Elderly, it has been my experience that as we age the main thing we strive to keep is our independence and our ability to make our own decisions.  Therefore, in an effort to assist seniors, elderly people, or their appointed family designated caregiver or decision maker, I strive to advocate for them in a way that empowers them for the long haul. For the long haul means: for as long as they are making their decisions or decisions on behalf of someone else.

Empowerment is derived from having a certain set of skill sets to complete certain tasks or possessing the knowledge and resources of how to accomplish certain tasks through other means. There are many tasks that could be completed by a Patient Advocate, that would allow seniors or their family to keep some forms for independence and their decision making abilities. The completion of these same tasks could be taught to the senior or family if they so desired.

Obviously everyone is different as well as their family unit or lack thereof.  Therefore how involved a Patient Advocate may be is determined by the needs of the patient at any given time. The following is a potential list of activities in which a senior or family could engage a Patient Advocate:

  • medical liaison services with all doctors and care providers to ensure complete understanding between all parties involved,
  • assist in identifying specific care needs as it relates to living arrangements, how to be independent in one’s home or other options,
  • assist in identifying how specific medical treatment plans could be completed and by whom such as proper medication dispersion and attendance at doctor
    • visits,
    • insurance or billing reconciliation and other bill payment methods,
    • identifying and rectifying safety hazards,
    • identifying physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs and options of meeting these needs,
    • offering ways to prevent family caregiver burnout and other family disputes.

    According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, more than 65 million people, or 29 percent of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for these individuals.

    If a Patient Advocate is empowering their clients, then the time spent with each family becomes less and less. Ultimately the family becomes their own advocate for the current situation and potential future needs of the family.

    Pick an advocate while you are healthy , whether it is a friend of relative.  Discuss with your advocate what your beliefs and wishes are for your healthcare moving forward.  Then, if the need arises, a decision can be made that reflects your desires, not those of  someone else