The COVID-19 pandemic has had a dramatic effect on the health-care system. Thousands of medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, therapists, and technicians, have retired early, switched careers, or simply cut back on their hours. Hospitals have been overwhelmed with very sick patients and, more recently, people who are seeking treatment for conditions they put off treating over the past several years. Many hospitals and medical practices are having difficulty finding the staff necessary to run at optimal levels.

This can have a serious effect on the care you receive if you are hospitalized or need ongoing treatment from your primary care provider or a specialist. It’s not unusual for a hospitalized patient to not see the same nurse twice over the course of a three- or four-day stay. A nurse practitioner or physician assistant may fill in for a busy doctor. In other words, the demands on the health-care system put the continuity of your care in jeopardy, which means you must take steps to look out for yourself. That means not traversing the health-care system alone.

Have an advocate

Recruit a trusted family member or close friend to be your advocate/partner as you interact with the health-care system. This person should know as much about your health and personal status as possible. Take the time to update your advocate with a list of your doctors, medications, significant past medical conditions, and current medical issues. In addition, make sure they know your insurance information and have copies of any legal documents related to your health, such as a living will and/or a durable medical power of attorney. Remember, this person is representing your interests and wishes, not their own or your family’s interests.

Take your advocate with you to the doctor or hospital. Don’t go alone. This is especially important if you are discussing a diagnosis or treatment options with a doctor. It is vital if you are hospitalized. Unless medical safety otherwise requires, you have the right to have someone with you at a doctor’s office or while hospitalized. Having an advocate present gives you a second set of ears and an additional voice to ask questions or seek more information.

Keeping it all clear

An advocate/partner can help keep vital information clear and understandable. It’s not uncommon for any of us to not hear everything a practitioner tells us after we receive a serious diagnosis, such as cancer. But your advocate can continue to hear what is being said and can help by asking the questions you may be too upset to ask. In a hospital setting, your advocate can ask why your medications have changed, look out for contradictory information, and make sure you are getting the attention you need.

In these harrowing times, having someone looking out for your health-care interests can improve your chances of having a healthier and longer life.

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