There’s a saying that “growin’ old ain’t for sissies,” and it’s probably the truth! Along with the challenges associated with an aging mind and body comes the need to grapple with today’s complex medical, legal, and insurance systems. It’s a role few people are well-suited for, much less a senior trying to deal with everyday issues that arise from their health concerns. In cases like these, a dose of patient advocacy may be just what the doctor ordered.
Why seniors might need patient advocacy
There are many reasons seniors might need patient advocacy, medical issues notwithstanding. Many elderly people are afraid or intimidated when trying to understand bills, talking to government officials regarding applications, or deciding their next step when overwhelmed with choices. It can be difficult for them to speak up for themselves when they’re unsure of what to say. And if you’ve been advocating for your senior on your own and are running into similar issues, that’s not uncommon either!
If this accurately describes what you and your loved one are going through, it may be time to invest in professional patient advocacy.
What’s a patient advocate?
What exactly is a professional patient advocate? They are often individuals with higher degrees in nursing, social work, or gerontology that help seniors with a variety of issues, including those related to medical, financial, and insurance problems. They may work out of an office, but will usually make home or facility visits. They may be part of a larger agency or organization, or can work independently. The best ones are kind, knowledgeable, and results-driven when it comes to getting your senior’s needs met.
What can a patient advocate do for your senior?
Simply put, a patient advocate can do for your senior what they have trouble doing for themselves. Advocates know the ins and outs of bureaucratic systems that can be overwhelmingly complex – and that make your loved one want to tear out their hair. They can take away the stress and worry you’ve been dealing with. They can also give back hours in your day that you may be losing in fruitless attempts to deal with billers, insurances, and similar networks.
Here’s a list of common tasks patient advocates take on for their clients:
- Identify or anticipate the senior’s unmet medical, financial, or legal needs and make recommendations for how to meet them, or how to advocate for them
- Scrutinize health care options with the patient, family, and health care team
- Explain the senior’s options in an easy-to-understand, jargon-free manner
- Help create an individualized care plan and coordinate necessary appointments, services, and resources to implement it
- With the patient’s permission, talk to insurance companies, billers, or government agencies on their behalf
- Handle routine or complex paperwork in order to ensure service delivery
- Assist seniors and families in applying to government programs such as Medicare and/or Medicaid.
- Recommend options to the senior and family, such as a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA), that may help with legal and medical decision-making issues
- Instruct the patient and family, if desired, in how to communicate more effectively with health care professionals, insurance companies, government offices, and other service providers
A good advocate will know what actions to take in the present, but a great one will be able to anticipate the senior’s future needs. This could be as simple as making out an Advance Directive, or as complex as recommending an attorney for estate planning.
Professional patient advocacy can be a lifesaver
If you or you senior are at the end of your rope trying to get services, and have met nothing but challenges and bad luck so far, patient advocacy can be a lifesaver. An advocate can empower your loved one so they can understand the systems that affect their lives, access the care they need, and make intelligent, informed decisions regarding their goals. Consider contacting an advocate today, and make the road ahead that much smoother for your senior – and you.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home senior care. Contact us to find out more.