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Everyone deserves access to high-quality medical care. But in such a complex healthcare environment, many people can feel as though they are getting lost in the system. Here, Patient Advocate Stacey Sougoufara provides foundational tips for self-advocating within the healthcare system to ensure you and your family get the care you deserve.

By Stacey Sougoufara, MSW

Navigating the healthcare system can be exhausting and frustrating. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, healthcare systems did not have to modify service delivery in the manner we experience today: “The Covid-19 Pandemic is a clear illustration of the ability of a small, surprise event in one part of the world to have a massive influence on the daily operations of hospitals and medical practices around the globe (Begun et al ,2020).”

Currently, many “healthcare systems/services are being compromised in order to meet the demands of caring for Covid-19 patients, and many people fear accessing healthcare facilities due to fear of acquiring the virus” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2020). Within the last year, healthcare systems have modified service access, clinic space and services delivery. These changes have caused difficulty in navigating the services one needs as a patient and/or caregiver.

If you’ve asked yourself how to conquer the complexities of healthcare during a pandemic, this blog is for you. Below are a few tips and suggestions that will help coordinate the services one may need to continue the path to wellness.

Appointments: Prior to scheduling appointment, visit the website or call the healthcare facility to verify Covid-19 guidelines, directions, location of office, arrival time, and paperwork needed. If special accommodations or assistance are needed for your appointment, discuss with a representative within the healthcare system or provider’s office. If for any reason the appointment cannot be kept, be courteous by calling to reschedule.

Virtual Visits: Request virtual visits with provider. Many healthcare systems are offering virtual visits as an alternative due to Covid-19. You will need an electronic device to access the appointment.

Person of Trust: Bring a trustworthy support person for appointments that are complex in nature. The support person can take notes and clarify next steps and questions to the provider.

Financial Obstacles: Express to the provider financial barriers that may prevent continued services or medication recommendations. There are programs available to assist patients with medication assistance and billing concerns.

Second Opinion: Request a second opinion for health problems or treatments. A second opinion allows you to make decisions that are well informed. Requesting such service is not a reflection of the provider. It’s important to be knowledgeable. Providers will support this decision.

Medical Record Access: Patients may have one free copy of the medical record, in print or on a CD. Take advantage of access to your medical record in the form of e-chart. E-chart allows you to communicate with your provider and review visit notes, lab results, and future appointments.

Document Interactions: Document all interactions with provider, office, pharmacy, and billing staff. Keep a journal and document date, time, person, or department and content discussed. Request clarification if content or language is complex.

As a Patient Advocate, I encourage you to apply these tips to coordinate your care and assist with obstacles that may present while navigating  healthcare systems.