The Life Transition Blog

Importance of a Patient Advocate

I was recently wearing my family transition coach hat in a case with a woman who was undergoing a series of significant life transitions all at once – physical symptoms including weight loss and musculoskeletal pain, a divorce, and loss of a job.  As overwhelming as all of that sounds, and it was, perhaps the biggest challenge was that none of her doctors thought to look for an underlying physical condition.  While working together to solve many day to day issues, I began to wonder if there wasn’t something more going on.  As it turned out, this woman needlessly suffered great physical pain because her diverse symptoms were chalked up to “stress”.

While it is true that stress played an important role in the client’s distress, the fact is that she had a medical condition that, when treated, caused her situation to become manageable rather than hopeless.  The eventual diagnosis came as a result of having a third party advocate involved.  Specifically, an advocate can often bring a fresh set of eyes to a situation.  In this case, I began to research possible causes of the constellation of symptoms other than the obvious one, stress.  It immediately became clear to me that it was very possible that at least a portion of the symptoms could be explained by one or more medical conditions or an adverse reaction to prescribed medications.   While I had no illusion that such a finding would explain everything, my hope was that finding and treating the condition would allow my client to get some relief from her many physical complaints, gain strength, and have the energy to focus on the hard work of dealing with the financial issues she faced.

My client’s physicians were skeptical and brushed aside our request for a thorough examination with an open mind.  They felt that all of the symptoms were perfectly explained by stress.  In their eyes, there was no need to look further.  As an advocate, I was able to engineer a second opinion involving a thorough workup.  In this case, that workup revealed a diagnosis for a treatable condition.   My client is recovering well and in a much better place to tackle her many challenging life transitions.

In another recent case I became involved after the fact, wearing my medical billing advocate hat.  In many medical billing cases, the simple act of sending a letter that begins, “we have been retained as Mr. Smith’s medical billing advocate” changes the dialogue.  It seems that the mere idea of a third party’s involvement in the situation is enough to start a conversation where none seemed possible before.

While I realize that it doesn’t always turn out this way, often it does.  A third party advocate has the benefit of looking at a situation with new and objective eyes.  When those around you say “no”, an advocate can ask “why?”  An advocate has the energy and expertise to push harder than you might be able to on your own.  While this example focuses on the role of a patient advocate the concept can be applied to many types of advocacy.  While advocates don’t carry a magic wand and can’t always get you the outcome you desire, we often can make an enormous difference, if not in the eventual outcome than in your experience as it unfolds.
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