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Caregivers Speak Blog: Finding Your Inner Chutzpah!

Bonnie Friedman - November 02, 2016 12:12 PM

Advocating for a loved one who is ill requires many things – time, attention and perseverance to start. Diplomacy and respect are other essential ingredients.  But effective advocacy also requires a strong dose of chutzpah, that wonderful Yiddish word blending personal guts and gumption.

I have been advocating for my husband Bob for more than a quarter century through multiple hospitalizations and illnesses. One thing I have learned is that my role is as important as the doctors and nurses in ensuring he gets the best medical care. Acting on that knowledge means working with medical professionals as an equal, trusting my instincts and speaking up when I have questions or think something is wrong.

Lucky me! I was born with a chutzpah gene. But not everyone is so fortunate. Some are overwhelmed by the bureaucracy of a hospital or the complexity of our health care system. Others feel intimidated by medical professionals who speak in technical terms that are hard to understand. Still others think doctors are gods who should not be questioned.

But making sure your loved one gets the best medical care requires the full involvement and participation of a family member or very close friend, especially when the patient is hospitalized. Doctors are busy, often forced to practice medicine by the clock. Nurses are routinely overworked and understaffed. Health care can be fragmented, and electronic medical records are no substitute for good communication.

One of the most important jobs of the advocate is connecting the dots – asking the right questions, paying attention to details and making sure that the entire medical team is on the same page. Taking up the charge requires confidence. That can start with basic research to better understand the patient’s condition and be poised to ask smart questions.

Keeping good notes and staying organized helps the advocate pay attention to details and follow up on questions or concerns.  Doctors don’t always communicate well with one another, and nurses are sometimes left out of the loop. Issues can fall between the cracks, and misunderstandings can affect patient care. A well-informed advocate can help keep communication flowing.

Advocates who are strong, persistent and professional get a better response from doctors too.  Acting with diplomacy and respect means you are more likely to receive them in return.

When you put it all together – education, organization and perseverance – confidence in your role as an advocate can grow. The more you do it, the better you get at it. Start by believing in yourself.  Remember, you know the patient better than anyone else in the hospital.

Think about a time in your life when you felt confident about your role – perhaps at work or in a community or other organizational setting. Draw upon your strengths, life experiences, street smarts and common sense. You can apply that sense of assurance to your advocacy role. 

Practice asking questions or making your case in advance. If you’re still not feeling confident, be prepared to act the part, knowing even a shaky start is better than no start at all. Before you know it, you will have some chutzpah of your own.

Bonnie Friedman is the owner of a consultancy business, a crusader for healthcare advocacy, and the author of "Hospital Warrior: How to Get the Best Care for Your Loved One".

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