Tag Archives: advocate


As a former hospital administrative assistant, I learned that every employee should be a patient advocate.  Medical facilities are there for one reason – to save lives in emergencies, through surgery, or furnish excellent medical care.  There are times that patients may not make it, but it should not be because mistakes were made in the hospital where they were cared for.  Hospitals have compliance officers and quality assurance officers that work to ensure that all healthcare standards are met.  If a patient or family member has a complaint, they should ask for the compliance officer and express their issues regarding the care of the patient. 

Understanding the compliance process and patient advocacy is a very important issue to everyone, because sooner or later, all of us at one time or another will possibly be a patient, or have a family member in the hospital.  Patient Safety Awareness Week is a national observance sponsored by the National Patient Safety Foundation to promote an educational and awareness-building campaign for improving patient safety. 

This is not meant to criticize the healthcare industry, which plays a very important roll in our well-being.  But in my experience, when mistakes are made, it’s by human errors, mainly because of inattention or lack of concern.  I’d like to give you a couple of examples:  (1) After waiting on a very important diagnosis, and  sitting in the examination room for almost an hour, the nurse came in and asked, “Now what’s your name?”   (Makes you feel kind of special, right?)  (2) How about: asking about lab work that was done a few days prior and was to be sent to a specialist, and hearing the nurse tell the doctor they guessed they put it under the wrong name.  A short time later, it was found, and sent on.  (Guess I would still be waiting, if I hadn’t asked.)  These experiences are minor, but they are frustrating to the patient, as well as the doctor.  Be your own advocate!  When a clinic or other facility tells you they will send your records to a specialist, call to be sure they have done so.  I have had several friends expecting to have their lab work or ct scan sent to a specialist located more than 100 miles away, only to find when they arrive, that the records haven’t. 

Electronic systems rather than paper patient charts are now used in many hospitals.   When a patient enters the emergency room, he/she is given a bracelet with a bar code.  This serves as identification throughout the patient’s stay to make sure the needed medications are accurate.  This system also assists with correct diet, medication, and other orders from the physician.   Medication errors have caused approximately 7,000 patient deaths per year.  Using these electronic systems require special training for the nurses, which usually takes a few days.  The rights of patient safety should ask:  Is it the right patient?  Is it the right drug?  Is it the right dose?  Is it the right route? And,  Is it the right time?  Other patient safety issues that hospitals must avoid are:

  • Wrong-site surgery;
  • Hospital-associated infections, (HAI’s);
  • Slips, trips, and falls;
  • Not being familiar with patient’s family history;
  • Ignoring alarms. 

When a patient is getting medical treatment in a hospital and given their wrist-band, (many times color-coded), the admissions person will ask if they have a living will, and if they don’t, the hospital will furnish one upon request, and also patient privacy information (HIPAA).  Persons should understand about a living will and a do-not-resusitate (DNR) order.   HIPAA is a federal law that prohibits medical facilities from giving out private information about the patient.  The amount of information that a care provider (nurse) can give is very limited under this law.

Families should ask a nurse to explain (especially if their family member is critically ill), about the monitors – which ones are being used, and the types of alarms that could sound,  which alarms they should be concerned with, and ones that are minor alarms.  Then if a critical alarm sounds, (usually it is more rapid and high-pitched), they can immediately go for help. Sometimes busy nurses do not hear the arlams or ignore the ones they think have low batteries.  “Alarm fatigue” is often experienced by nurses because of the volume of beeping sounds throughout their shift.  They must remember that many times the patient is depending on their quick response.

We are all thankful for hospitals, which goes without saying.  For the most part, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities do a great job.  But if you feel the safety of someone you know or love is being compromised, speak up!  You must be a patient advocate in every sense of the word.


It’s a reality that some of us are just not in the best of moods during the holidays.  There can be many reasons for this, but sometimes, celebratory occasions bring out sadness in individuals.  I enjoy the holidays and look forward to being with my family, but at the beginning of the season, I always think of my parents, who passed away several years ago.  My dad loved Christmas; when we would decorate the tree, he put on the Christmas “records”, yes, records, and some of the Christmas music we listened to is still popular today.  He got so much pleasure out of doing all the things that made our Christmas special.  And, he could make delicious fudge!

It is normal to feel grief for those we have lost.  But there are those who suffer from depression all year long, and certain times of the year make them even bluer.  Depression is an illness; it can cause physical pain as well as emotional stress.  You and I can’t cure someone that suffers from this illness; it requires professional help.  But we can be more attentive to our surroundings and watch for signs that our work friend may be having a more difficult time in performing his/her duties.  They could be struggling with relationships or physical demands that we are not aware of.  Sometimes the season alone can be the reason their feelings are magnified.  If you know someone who may be depressed, do what you can to encourage him to trust his healthcare provider for professional help.  It is important that they stay on medications and call their provider if symptoms get worse.  

If there are parties after work for the employees to get together, don’t encourage anyone to consume alcohol if they are “down in the dumps.”  Alcohol is a depressant.  Excessive drinking only increases feelings of depression, so this is important for all of us to remember, whether we are with our work friends or other acquaintances. 

During these economic times, folks are doing their best to furnish what gifts they are able to give without extending their budget too far.  Keep track of holiday spending.  If you overspend, you will be pretty depressed when the bills arrive.  Most of the time, people are perfectly happy with the gifts they receive and don’t equate them with dollar signs.  Over-commercialization can be another reason for feeling blue.  Every year, we see the commercials about the brand new luxury car in the driveway, with a big, red ribbon on it!  Let’s get real, folks!  I know they want to sell cars, but I can’t help but think about families who don’t have a home or a job, or may be living in their cars. 

Please use some of these tips to help someone you know that may be struggling with the holidays:

  • Find some activities that are free, and take them out for an afternoon of just “window shopping” or treat them to a funny movie.
  • Take your lunch break together, and listen, if they just want to talk.
  • Volunteering is a great way to help and get to know others, and may be just “what the doctor ordered” to get him/her involved with something different.
  • Encourage them to look to the future with optimism.
  • Trying a new activity just might be the thing to make one feel better.
  • Suggest getting in touch with old friends or family members.
  • Enjoy the present.
  • Spend time with caring and supportive people. 

You are very blessed if you haven’t hit a low spot at one time or another in your lifetime.  For those who seem to be in that low spot most of the time, there is help.  If a person’s work is affected, if they are present in body but not spirit, if they show signs of fatigue or stress, we need to be their advocates.  We need to encourage them to seek professional guidance, in order to get better.  (They need to know they can get better!)  Many companies offer counseling for their employees, and want to help them cope.  They know that if their employees are in better mental and physical condition, there will be less risk of workplace injuries.  We all know the chance for accidents is greater when we feel fatigued or “just not ourselves.” 

Too many times we are so wrapped up in our own job, that we overlook someone who needs help but may be too proud to ask for it.  Don’t let anyone have a “Blue Christmas” without you.  Be there for your family, coworkers, and friends.  You may need a lift someday, too.


We are all human, and make mistakes, but in the field of medicine, errors may be costly.  In a recent report by the Institute of  Medicine, between 44,000 and 98,000 people die in U.S. hospitals as a result of medical mistakes.  More persons die from medical errors than motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, or Aids.

Most people hate to ask their doctors many questions, because they are intimidated by the fact that the doctor is busy and in a rush to get to the next patient.  You are as important as that next person.  If you leave your doctor’s visit with questions on your mind about a certain procedure or medication they have prescribed, you are putting your complete faith in them.  You must be an integral part of your healthcare team.  If you have children or elderly parents, you are a very important member of their healthcare team! 

Be sure to tell your physician every type of medication you are taking, vitamins, herbs, over-the-counter drugs, as well as all prescriptions, and any adverse reactions you have had in the past to certain medications.  If you have trouble reading the doctor’s script, ask him the name of it, and be sure your pharmacists can read it, as well.  This is one way to ensure that a mistake won’t be made.  Most pharmacies include written instructions and information on side effects of the medicine, so be sure you read that completely. 

Medical errors can occur in hospitals, clinics, doctor’ offices, nursing homes, patient homes, or outpatient services.   Mistakes can be made during operations, diagnostics, with equipment, reading lab reports, or from a routine task such as giving a high-salt meal to a patient on a salt-free diet.  Hospital patients should ask their health care workers if they have washed their hands before touching them; hospital-associated infections are very common.  The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons urges its members to initial the surgery site prior to surgery; you want to be sure they are putting a new joint in the right place! 

Should you receive a diagnosis that you question, make arrangements to see another physician, someone who is not associated with your doctor.  Getting a second opinion is very important in certain illnesses.  Sign a release to pick up your lab work results.  Too often the nurse will call and say “everything’s fine,” and hopefully it is.  But they may miss some critical part of the report, and it doesn’t hurt to ask a professional to look at your results.  Your doctor may not make the mistake; it could be a radiologist or pathologist that may misinterpret the x-rays or other tests.  My physician asked one time for a third reading of an x-ray for me because two radiologists came up with completely different diagnoses.  He sent it to a third one, whose opinion barely agreed with one of the others.  If that happens, who are you to believe?  It can be very scarey.

We aren’t undermining hospitals and physicians in any way; they are diligent in their efforts to keep us well.  It is merely an effort to encourage you to be involved and understand what is going on anytime you are being cared for.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  From experience, most of us have sat in hospital rooms with family members and wondered if the outcome would have been different if we had asked for more information.  If you feel that you or a family member is not being attended as you/they should be, speak up.  Remember, you must be the guardian for yourself, as well as your loved ones.


Source: AHRQ.gov