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How to mitigate the added challenges at hospitals due to COVID-19

Today I had an interesting discussion* among fellow professional patient advocates, doctors, and hospital social workers. Because of COVID-19 and its strict visitor restrictions at hospitals, I haven't been to an acute care unit since February, and I was eager to learn the perspectives of hospital clinicians who take on an 'advocate role' in the hospitals. First off, it was heart-warming to learn these clinicians do absolute best to provide the patients and the families some sense of connection and a sense of normalcy. They often use technology ("Ipads are your new best friends in the hospitals!") and some creativity to resolve the challenges of "No Visitor Policy."

Below is a quick review of WHAT YOU CAN DO (NOW) to mitigate the difficulties and challenges in the event you or your loved one, unfortunately, require hospital care during the COVID era.

  1. First, this is the most fundamental thing that will help you and your family in any kind of serious medical situation -- Think about your wishes with medical care and discuss them with your loved ones about your choices. (But of course, these things are never easy. Please seek help! There is plenty of free or inexpensive educational material and support available.)

  2. From those discussions, decide who will carry out your wishes. It's best to pick just ONE person as a medical decision-maker (because there may not be a time for discussion), and others for backup and other responsibilities (financial, communication, other logistics). Then you must record your decision as Advance Directive** (again, there's plenty of free or inexpensive aids available. No lawyer necessary. You can also change your mind easily anytime! Many independent patient advocates are also happy to assist with low fees).

  3. Once your loved one is in a hospital, the family spokesperson can call the hospital and request to speak with the nurse or the social worker to get the sense of the situation. The doctor should also call the designated family member daily. Don't hesitate to ask if the staff can do something in case the patient's needs are not met. (They might be able to bend the policy a little bit depending on the situation!)

  4. Hospital clinicians are very busy. They may not return your call quickly, or they may even forget. Just call them back and politely insist on getting an answer. But if you find these tasks too difficult, it's time to contact a professional advocate quickly. Please don't delay! I've noticed a clear pattern... people tend to wait until the situation gets really complicated or just about to be discharged to a place that they don't want to go. When you're (your family's) in a hospital, it's NOT the time for wishful thinking. Your life /the life of your family is precious, and TIMING IS EVERYTHING in healthcare. Also, remember a stick in time saves nine!

  5. A patient advocate can request to be called in for the daily patient round (the doctor and other clinicians review the progress and plans of each patient).

  6. If you're discharged to a skilled nursing facility, the staffing will be limited, and the pace will be slower there. It will be important that someone advocates for you so that you will receive the safe and proper care that leads to fast recovery, instead of staying there for a long time, or even worse...

These hospital clinicians mentioned that they welcome the presence of patient advocates (whether it's a family member or professional) because they make their job a little easier. It was a great reminder that even during this unprecedented COVID era, good clinicians take time to get to know their patients and try to treat them with their utmost respect. However, instead of taking a chance, let's take action now to ensure your and your family's good outcomes before you ever need hospital care! :)

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post it on Twitter @kkcorbet, or Facebook !

*Hosted by Washington State Health Advocacy Association (WASHAA)

**Hopefully, many people know the importance of having the Advance Directive already. But please be aware, due to COVID-19 and the blanket waiver of many patient's rights including the Patient Self-Determination Act, patients who get admitted to a hospital without a Directive, may never be asked about their wishes, and instead, the doctor may decide for them.


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