Patient advocates can help with care planning
March 18, 2019

Q:  My elderly parents live quite a distance from me. Due to chronic medical conditions they both have been hospitalized during the past year. My family and work responsibilities make it difficult to get away and travel back home each time they get sick. I make every attempt to stay involved by calling the hospital and their physicians. Sometimes things go smoothly but not always. There isn’t anyone else available in the area that I can rely on to oversee their care. Is there anyone that could be of assistance in the event another medical emergency occurs?

A:  Even younger individuals with family involvement can find themselves in a situation where they could benefit from someone helping them to navigate the health care system. When a person is ill, in pain, worried or facing difficult decisions about future care, the experience can be overwhelming. No matter the level of education, expertise or previous involvement with inpatient care, a person can feel incapable of acting in their own best interest.

Everyone who accesses health care at a hospital or has a family member who requires medical care should be aware of individuals who are referred to as patient advocates. Persons in this role act on behalf of the patient and work with other members of the health care team. Originally when this position first started in hospital settings the focus was on listening to concerns, complaints and grievances voiced by patients or their family members and trying to resolve the issues. Some hospitals have expanded the role to include settling billing concerns, answering questions about health insurance, and looking into coverage disputes. They may also be in a position to help patients understand existing treatment options and services available once the person is discharged.

You can learn more about the patient advocate position at the hospital where your parents seek medical care. Ask specific questions about what you could expect from the person if you need to access their services in the future. If for some reason you aren’t convinced the person can provide everything your parents might need or you are concerned about a conflict of interest you might consider hiring a private patient advocate. Qualified individuals can be found at


Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our staff is available for a no-cost consultation, set up at your convenience, to help guide you through your caregiving experience. For more details or to schedule an appointment, please call 800-892-0890.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Please direct your correspondence to or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., Age Information Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services.

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