The advocacy story
Regarding “Empowering the patient,” (Jan. 31, p. 32): I am a long-time member of the Society for Healthcare Consumer Advocacy, which is affiliated with the American Hospital Association, and I want to correct a few misperceptions that may have resulted from your article.
Our membership primarily consists of hospital-based patient advocates. However, it is not true that we mostly deal with inpatients. Many hospitals have advocates assigned full time to emergency rooms and to outpatient clinics.
Where not so assigned, most of our members cover any patient seen anywhere in the hospital’s system, and are sometimes even drawn into helping patients seen by community doctors in a private office.
Joanna Smith mentioned the inherent conflict-of-interest such hospital-based advocates might have in dealing with patients having trouble with the very hospital paying the advocate’s salary. However, in our code of ethics we are very clear that our primary allegiance is to our patients, and this is often discussed in our education sessions. I cannot remember a single instance of a situation where such a choice was necessary. The hospital, after all, is paying the advocate’s salary because they believe in the idea of assuring patients’ rights and needs are met and recognize that in a complex organization there is sometimes a need for a resource that has no other role than to assure this happens.
Private advocates apparently do some things not done by a typical hospital-based advocate, such as recommending doctors and a course of treatment to patients diagnosed with serious conditions. We do, however, help patients sort through the roles of different specialists and explain what options patients have in making choices.
As your article points out, most people cannot afford such help. It seems very unfair that only those who can afford it should have access to help navigating the system. It isn’t necessary to pay for this help when a hospitalbased patient advocate exists. Anita B. Woodward President A. Woodward & Associates Green Valley, Ariz.