Advocating for Patients: 10 Ways To Do It (With Example)

Updated March 10, 2023

Patient well-being, proper treatment and equality are essential elements of the health care industry, regardless of the level of injury, illness or condition each patient is experiencing. Advocacy is an integral part of ensuring patient rights, and those involved in the medical field can advocate on a patient's behalf. If you're considering a career in the health care industry, learning about patient advocacy can help you develop related professional skills.

In this article, we define patient advocacy, share 10 ways to advocate for patients and list tips to help you with advocacy throughout your medical career.

What does advocating for patients mean?

Patient advocacy is an element of health care that concerns sharing, expressing and highlighting the rights or desires of a patient. Advocacy can also apply to a group of patients or the caregivers of a patient. It often includes:

  • Ensuring patients have the right to make decisions about their own health

  • Promoting patient equality

  • Preserving human dignity

  • Speaking on behalf of patients to safeguard the right level of care

With patient advocacy, you support and promote the interest of your patients, both as individuals and as a community or group. Through patient advocacy, you might:

  • Facilitate open dialogue

  • Deliver competent care

  • Uphold moral values and ethics

  • Review care and treatment plans

  • Explain medical language or procedures

  • Clarify or challenge guidance or treatment

  • Share counterpoints to medical philosophies

  • Mediate between patients and doctors

  • Liaison with family members

  • Get involved with the legal system on behalf of a patient

Related: Why Work in Health Care? 8 Reasons To Consider a Career in Health Care

10 ways to advocate for patients

You can advocate for your patients in a variety of ways, including the following:

1. Educate the patient

Teach your patient about their injury, illness or condition, including any improvements or setbacks and how to manage them. The more a patient understands, the better they can advocate for themselves. Here are some tips to help you educate your patients:

  • Use easy-to-understand language when explaining complicated medical terminology.

  • Review medications and accompanying instructions carefully.

  • Ask the patient if they have questions.

Read more: Effective Strategies for Educating Patients (Plus Benefits)

2. Update the entire team

It's imperative to give the entire medical team any and all patient updates to ensure the patient receives the best possible care from all providers. This may include information about:

  • Changes to patient symptoms, care or long-term plans 

  • Patient mood changes

  • Specific patient wishes or concerns

You can communicate this information in person, at meetings or through documentation and patient notes. Ensuring all medical personnel who interact with your patient know about situational circumstances, personal beliefs or cultural practices beyond medical needs is also an important part of advocating on behalf of your patient.

Related: 6 Top Tips for Better Teamwork

3. Be present

You can help patients through advocacy by remaining present when important events happen, like when a doctor makes rounds or talks with a patient about their diagnosis, treatment or progress. If you're present, you may:

  • Help your patient ask questions

  • Offer explanations

  • Prompt other medical personnel to share more to help a patient understand. 

Sometimes, a patient may be more comfortable with you, and your presence alone can be a form of advocacy.

4. Ensure safety

The health and well-being of all patients is a priority, and safety is key. Here are some ways to help ensure safety for your patients:

  • Make sure all personnel follow proper procedures.

  • Store all medical equipment correctly.

  • Actively work to reduce hazards or risks around the facility.

Related: 32 Medical Careers In Demand (Plus Salary Info and Duties)

5. Double-check documentation

You can advocate for patients by being diligent in all documentation, paperwork, charting and directions. Consider reading all orders carefully, double-checking with doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other medical personnel. This can help prevent the following:

  • Errors

  • Conflicting orders

  • Misinformation

  • Oversights

The error itself may not be a big issue if you notice it in time to correct it.

6. Give proper care

One of the best examples of consistent patient advocacy is doing your job well. Here are some tips to improve the quality of your care:

  • Use your medical expertise to conduct procedures properly and handle medically related tasks thoroughly.

  • Be observant, pay attention to detail and complete tasks effectively to help patients every day. 

  • Treat patients with respect, compassion and dignity.

  • Encourage your colleagues to strive to give the best quality of care also. 

Related: 16 Nursing Values and Why They're Important

7. Offer resources

You can help a patient find relevant resources in and outside of your facility as part of advocacy. Learn more about organizations and resources in your community that provide support, financial assistance, transportation, caregiving or other offerings. For example, a service that provides homebound patients with meal delivery could help patients who have limited mobility while they continue recovering at home. Other examples of providing assistance and offering resources include:

  • Securing home supplies

  • Helping with discharge paperwork

  • Introducing a social worker

  • Filling take-home prescriptions

  • Investigating generic prescription brands for affordability

  • Ensuring transportation home or to and from future appointments

Related: 18 Jobs You Can Get With a Health and Human Services Degree

8. Listen to your patient

Advocacy requires both highlighting patients' conditions vocally and listening intently. When you talk to your patient, actively listen to their needs, wants, concerns and requests and take them seriously. They may not always be correct about what they feel as it relates to a medical diagnosis, though their concerns are still a top priority. Hearing symptoms in their own words can be lifesaving.

Read more: 8 Strategies To Improve Your Listening Skills

9. Teach patients how to self-advocate

Have discussions with your patients about how to self-advocate. Teach them ways they can put it into practice, now and in the future. This can be helpful for times you're not available and for the patient's overall continued well-being. Here are some basic tasks you can discuss with patients to help them learn to advocate for themselves:

  • Writing a medical summary: Let your patient know how important an overview of their medical condition is, and give them examples of documents to inspire their own. Include elements like health conditions, allergies, medications and doses and contact information for their primary doctor or other physicians.

  • Choosing health care providers: Encourage your patient to use trusted resources to research doctors, dentists and other health experts. Stress the importance of feeling comfortable with their decision and suggest they have a face-to-face interview or conversation with prospective medical professionals.

  • Asking for effective communication: Let your patient know they have a right to understand their health care, including asking for a language interpreter if there are communication barriers. Translators often work for hospitals or medical facilities specifically to help patients understand what's happening.

  • Seeking inpatient alternatives: Many treatments are available through at-home visits, and patients with compromised immune systems or other vulnerabilities should advocate for them rather than having an unnecessary hospitalization, which can increase the risk of infection.

  • Developing personal health knowledge: Encourage your patient to continue learning more about their condition, illness or injury through reliable health websites, literature and organizations. The more they understand about procedures, diagnoses, medications and care, the better they can continue to self-advocate.

10. Connect with families

Part of successful patient advocacy involves communicating with family members. You can help inform, educate and train family members on the condition, injury or illness of your patient. You may also intervene in unsafe family situations, like neglect or improper living conditions.

Related: Becoming a Patient Liaison (With Steps)

Nursing advocacy example

Here's an example of patient advocacy in action to help improve your understanding:

Nurse Smith has spent many hours with a patient named Joe, who's in the hospital because of a pelvic fracture. Nurse Smith understands that Joe is in recovery for addiction and is wary of becoming reliant on pain medication. When the doctor comes in, they suggest a heavy painkiller for Joe's post-operation recovery. Nurse Smith notices that Joe looks uncomfortable and asks if Joe has any questions about the medication plan. Nurse Smith helps Joe describe his concerns to the doctor, and together they all agree on a different medication plan. 

Related: Advocacy Strategies in Nursing: Definition, Benefits and How-To

Who advocates for patients?

Everyone in the medical field has a responsibility to advocate for patients, regardless of their position. Nurses are common patient advocates because of the large amount of time they spend with their patients. Additionally, many medical hospitals, facilities and patient care organizations hire professional patient advocates, whose sole responsibility is to focus on the well-being of a patient to ensure they have access to and receive proper medical treatment.

Other forms of patient advocacy include:

  • Government groups and national agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

  • Nonprofit associations, societies and organizations, like the American Heart Association or American Cancer Society

Related: Learn About Being a Patient Advocate

Tips for advocating for patients

Here are some additional tips to consider when advocating for patients in your medical career:

  • Develop strong professional relationships. Having a good connection with leaders, administrators and colleagues is important for patient advocacy because a supportive team atmosphere can help achieve successful results. Specifically, this type of connection can improve the processes for decision-making, discussing challenging situations or handling high patient loads.

  • Be both tactful and assertive. It's important to be assertive when advocating for your patients to make other medical professionals consider your guidance. You can be assertive and still deliver your message with professionalism, tact and understanding.

  • Get enough rest. Jobs in the medical field often require long hours and monotonous work. Be sure to get enough rest, as being well-rested can help you advocate more effectively.

  • Advocate for yourself. It's important to advocate for your own profession or position in the medical field, particularly as it relates to patient advocacy. For example, if you need more supplies, stronger guidance or better procedures to reduce patient risk and increase patient well-being, consider sharing your concerns with leadership.

  • Take a class. Consider taking a patient advocacy training session or continuing education class to gain more actionable skills and learn best practices for patient advocacy.

This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Consult with an attorney for any legal issues you may be experiencing.

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