Patient Advocate: Bring a Friend to the Hospital

In the hospital, you want someone watchful at your bedside. Diplomatic skills are helpful, too.


Experts in patient safety feel strongly that patients need an advocate in the hospital—someone who will scrutinize every pill and IV bag, question authority, keep cool in a crisis, and keep you calm and your spirits high.

Dream on, says Martin Hatlie, president of Partnership for Patient Safety, a Chicago-based advocacy group. "There are certain things as a layperson that you cannot understand about the medical world," he says—why the patient is suddenly spiking a fever, say. And a take-no-prisoners attitude will alienate nurses and other caregivers (bad idea).

What you really need at your side, says Hatlie, is someone who meshes with your medical providers. "Make yourself indispensable to them," he suggests—learning to spot whatever calls for attention, like a nearly empty IV bag or nearly full urine container. Giving alcohol rubs. Helping you to the bathroom. At the same time, complimenting caregivers who perform their jobs conscientiously and thoughtfully, like the nurse who finds a vein with little discomfort on the first try. And making a genuine effort to get to know them a little—asking a doctor about his children or a nurse what he likes to do in his free time.

Your advocate may need to get pushy every so often. "I do understand the hospital has a rule against staying overnight in a patient's room," she might say. "But might an exception be made? My friend is really anxious." That's an advocate you want at your side—someone who chooses her battles and plays well with others. Not a tightly wound watchdog.

This story was originally reported on 7/15/07.