How To Advocate For A Loved One


A hospital can be a confusing place. Long, seemingly endless hallways, foreign medical jargon and a sea of medical professionals can leave patients feeling lost and overwhelmed.

As healthcare professionals, we do our best to help patients navigate their hospital stay or medical treatment. Another key asset to the care team? The patient’s own loved ones. Those who advocate for their family member serve as a guiding light for these patients – making sure they understand their treatment and condition, and what everything means in terms of their overall care.

What Does It Mean To Advocate for Someone?

First, let’s put things into perspective: In medical settings, the “power” is a bit shifted in favor of medical professionals. As a patient, you are coming into my environment, a place where I spend much of my time. I push the buttons, I prescribe the medication, and I have the inside knowledge. It can be very intimidating for patients because they may not know what’s going on and may not have been in the situation before. Communication is key, and having a trusted person with them who can help advocate on their behalf is very beneficial in easing that nervousness and helping bring clarity.

Whether you’re a spouse or partner, son or daughter, parent, sibling or close friend, being an advocate for your loved one going through some sort of medical experience means being willing to be an extra set of eyes and ears and to stand up for that person if necessary. You help make sure they are receiving the medical attention and care they deserve, and that their voice is being heard. Your role is critical because you may be less afraid to speak up, whereas the patient may feel embarrassed or worry about upsetting the doctor.

How Can I Advocate for My Loved One?

Short answer: There are many ways to advocate for a loved one depending on each unique situation. Here are some key ways you may be able to help:

  • Take notes. If the health condition is chronic, family members can help keep track of details about the illness, how it has affected the patient, what treatments and medications have been administered, what tests or appointments are coming up, and so on.
  • Help answer questions. If it’s a sudden illness or pain, the advocate can help doctors in emergency situations by describing how the patient usually is and what this unknown condition seems to be doing to their loved one in need.
  • Ask questions. When with the medical staff, an advocate should feel empowered to share their thoughts and questions. If you think a test might need to be done, wonder why a certain procedure is necessary, or have worries about medication side effects, for example, talk with the medical team to get clarity.
  • Speak up. If you feel the encounter with the physician isn’t going well, express those concerns. It takes a great deal of courage to speak up in these situations, but often, the whole tone of the interaction changes for the better once the doctor or care team is aware you or your family member don’t feel comfortable or have lingering questions. Most likely, they will welcome your constructive feedback and work to address your concerns with you.
  • Communicate the patient’s wishes. Although it is a scary and difficult discussion to have, if an advocate knows their loved one’s end-of-life wishes, it is incredibly helpful for the patient, the family and the medical team. I have found that in situations where the discussion has never been had, there is a great amount of stress placed on those tasked with making medical decisions for someone else. Medical teams can better act in accordance with a patient’s wishes if a clear discussion has been had or is documented well in advance of a situation when you need it.

Advocates are essential assets for patients who are often at their most frightened and vulnerable. While a difficult job, serving as a patient advocate is rewarding. In this role, you have the opportunity to improve the overall care and comfort of your loved one, and help physicians and nurses do their jobs better.

Categories: FeelWell