When my world became focused on patient safety 30 years ago, it wasn’t only because of my personal experience. It became important because, by talking to others, I heard of many other stories where medical care went wrong or mistakes were made, and though the patients or their families saw it coming, they did not feel empowered enough to say something. Many of these people who lost loved ones or experienced harm worked in healthcare.
Sure, we are in a pandemic now; that is the health emergency we all face. Many in society, myself included, are fearful for our own health and that of our loved ones. No one wants to hear that their beloved family member has COVID-19. But are you prepared if you or your family were to become patients?
As I began attending medical — primarily patient safety — conferences over 20 years ago (my first was in 1999), I learned how errors happen from the people who were involved with causing them and studying them. I grew passionate about bringing that information back to the public, but it has been futile. Most people — understandably, perhaps — avoid planning for the probability they might ever be a sick or injured patient. But if they wait until its too late, they are not in a physical or emotional state to help themselves.
I have spent many years sitting at patients’ bedsides, so I have seen what can happen. Going on doctor visits, helping people prepare for surgery, sitting with people in wheelchairs, people with limited English, people who are homeless and people who are transgender, I have seen how they were treated and how care can go wrong.
Years ago, I believed that if the world became filled with patient advocates, that would be the missing piece, the link between the sick, injured or aging society and the complex, overworked, error-riddled healthcare system.
The training we have offered the community over the years has helped people with no medical background prepare to help a loved one through the healthcare system or, in many cases, to become professional patient advocates.
Maybe my old dream will become a reality: more advocates are coming and many are here already. Patient advocates can focus on many areas, such as legal, financial, medical and care management. There are the social workers, medical, support, self-trained, and Board Certified. Some specialize in rare diseases, some in geriatrics, and some in pediatrics. You can find them through associations that support patient advocates. Here are a few, and I hope you will join us on December 14th to hear from the founder of Greater National Advocates.