This article was originally published in Main Street Nashville under the name As you plan for retirement, who will be your health advocate? by Jane Kelley, Executive Director of Community & Home Services at Blakeford. You can view the original article here.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, only 12% of U.S. adults have the health literacy skills needed to manage the demands of the health care system. As the ability to comprehend and absorb information is impaired with illness and age, seniors must begin to think about health advocates who will help them live long, healthy lives.
Defining health advocates and their importance
The Washington State Health Advocacy Association defines a health advocate or patient advocate as an individual who provides direct and personalized services to patients and their families as they navigate the health care system.
Health advocates help patients decide if they should visit a doctor, prepare for appointments, convey concerns, ask pertinent questions, interpret the information shared and navigate insurance and billing policies. They are also responsible for assisting patients with carrying out recommendations from their doctors and promoting a healthy lifestyle.
Having a second set of eyes and ears can ease the burden on you and give family members peace of mind knowing their loved one is receiving quality care.
Who are health advocates, and how do you pick one?
Health advocates can include a range of people, from a spouse to a personal care coordinator. To select a health advocate, you must think about your level of need and, in some cases, their availability to help you.
Often, family members, including a spouse or your children, who work in the medical field can serve as ideal health advocates. While they may not be able to attend every doctor’s appointment with you, they can assist in preparing you for doctor’s appointments and anticipate what questions you may need to ask. They can also be an excellent resource for interpreting recommendations and holding you accountable for carrying out your doctor’s advice.
This can be a significant time commitment for a family member, so be sure to ask if they are OK with assuming that role in your life.
Personal care coordinator:
When you’re still healthy and independent but are beginning to see the effects of aging, a personal care coordinator is an excellent place to start. Personal care coordinators are certified nurses who can help with everything from home safety, transportation and housekeeping support to managing medications and medical appointments. They are passionate advocates for your well-being, providing support, advice and companionship.
Hiring a personal care coordinator is an excellent choice for those who can still live on their own but desire assistance with managing their health care and don’t have a qualified family member available to assist. Often, patients enrolled in a Continuing Care at Home program, like LiveWell By Blakeford in Nashville, receive a personal care coordinator when registering.
If your need for care is high, a personal caregiver can act as a health advocate. A caregiver is recommended for those who cannot complete tasks independently and require daily assistance with things like bathing and physical therapy. They usually are not able to help with home management activities or transportation. Caregivers are familiar with your medical history, medicines and overall health from interacting with you daily, and they are trained to provide patient medical care in your home.
As you age, your level of need and the responsibility of your health advocate are likely to increase. It is essential to remain open to new options and find a new advocate as your needs change.
If you plan to age at home, consider researching a Continuing Care at Home program to see how it can enhance your life and provide you with great options for health advocates.
Jane Kelley is the executive director of home and community services for Blakeford Senior Life, which offers a full continuum of care on its Blakeford at Green Hills campus along with at-home care options through its LiveWell program for seniors in the Nashville area.