If you had told us just a few short months ago that there would be a health scenario that would keep families apart from a loved one in the hospital, it would have been hard to envision. Yet, here we are. Out of necessity, visitation policies have been drastically tightened to reduce the possibility of the additional spread of Covid-19. For many families, personal visits are simply not an option. The impact goes beyond emotional support for the patient. When we aren’t there, who will advocate and watch out for our loved one?
Even when we can’t be there, our advocacy role doesn’t end. And, in times of extraordinary stress on care providers and resources, their need for an advocate only increases. The good news is that there are steps we can take to give the patient and the family reassurance and an advocacy path. Consider these questions:
- Who is the single point of contact? When it comes to coordinating care and patient advocacy, it is best to have the individual name a single family member for that role. When multiple family members are involved in communicating directly with the hospital, the result is frustration and confusion on all sides, not to mention wasted time and effort. The designated individual should be someone trusted by the patient and willing to take the responsibility of checking in with the patient, fielding questions, communicating with the staff, and providing updates/answers to other family members.
- How will you communicate with the patient? Fortunately, in our connected age, most of us have smart phones and/or tablets. (Don’t forget the charger.) Of course, there will be situations when a patient may not be able to talk or text, or even know how to use a smart device. In those instances, try talking with a floor nurse on what communication options might be available (for instance, some hospitals allow you to send them an email designated for a patient).
- Are you communicating with care and consideration? This is a time of high stress for everyone. If you are able (even by calling the floor), make one of your first tasks to introduce yourself to the nursing staff as the family’s point of contact. Ask how they prefer you to communicate and how they will typically try to reach you. Ensure they have your contact information, and don’t forget to thank them and acknowledge how busy they are. All this will help establish a cooperative relationship and set the right tone. When you do need to communicate a question or concern, do it calmly and be respectful of their time and busy schedule. (Often, email works well for communication and allows staff to respond when their schedule allows.) Of course, when it’s time to push, do it, but don’t make that your first approach. A little empathy and compassion go a long way with medical professionals as well as patients especially in these trying times.
We know nothing can take the place of being there in person. However, with a little planning and keeping clear and open lines of communication both within the family and with medical providers and staff, you can be an effective advocate for your loved one.