The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) advises healthcare consumers use a professional health advocate to assist with personal health management. Carolyn M. Clancy, MD, notes research evidence supports that quality healthcare is more readily achieved when the individual patient takes an active role in decision making. She explains that a healthcare advocate provides "another set of ears and eyes" in the room when the consumer meets with the physician. Clancy acknowledges that meeting with a physician can be overwhelming for the consumer. The jargon, stress, details and results of tests, medication recommendations and regimens, and healthcare advice discussed by a primary care provider can be confusing, overwhelming, and difficult for the consumer to understand.
Health advocates, as described by Clancy and AHRQ, assist patients with the following: ask questions of or voice concerns to the doctor; compile or update the consumer's medication list; record and explain the medication regimen; help the consumer follow treatment instructions and arrange transportation; ask questions about follow-up care; research treatment options, procedures, doctors, and hospitals; file paperwork or assist with insurance claims; and ask the "what's next" questions: "If this test is negative, what does it mean? If it's positive, will more tests be needed?"
All of the above activities (except perhaps arranging transportation and dealing with insurance) fall under the province of nursing care. Clancy does say that nurses do make good patient advocates. An advocate is described as someone who is calm, pays attention to details, and can clearly explain information and ask questions about healthcare recommendations.
The "health advocate" activities listed by AHRQ are a part of good nursing care in most situations. For AHRQ and a physician to open up the health advocate role in an article targeting consumers brings up a few questions for nurse educators. Are we adequately teaching our students the health advocate role? Are we supplying them with the skills to effectively serve in this role? Are we communicating to consumers that a nurse is the best professional to serve as a health advocate? Perhaps we need to examine our focus on this timely and important role. Additionally, we have to examine the increased need for health advocacy as changes related to healthcare reform develop. Nurse educators, practicing nurses, and nursing students need to reexamine the expanding and evolving role of the health advocate.
Source: Flesher J. Clancy C. Why it's wise to use a health advocate. Navigating the health care system. AHRQ. July 6, 2010. Available at http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/cc/cc070610.htm. Accessed July 17, 2010.
Submitted by: Robin E. Pattillo, PhD, RN, CNL, News Editor at [email protected].