Is your patient advocate an advocate--or a defensive tackle?


OK, I'm not naive. I know that while many hospital employees truly want patients to have a good experience at their facility, hospitals also need to be worried about being developing a bad reputation or worse, getting sued, when something goes wrong.

So don't get me wrong, I'm not sitting here suggesting that hospital ombudsmen/advocates shouldn't be thinking about risks when they encounter aggrieved patients. I am, however, suggesting that there's something wrong when advocates aren't allowed to be warm and fuzzy, seek solutions that make patients feel good emotionally, and even concede that it's slightly, remotely possible something could have appeared to go wrong.

Not only is friendly behavior more likely to reduce anger on the part of the patient--which as I recall, reduces probability of a lawsuit being filed if the patient really has a cause of action--it's just retail common sense in a world where healthcare services are more retail-oriented than ever.

These issues are on my mind, in particular, after one upsetting recent experience as a hospital healthcare consumer. In my discussion with that office, it seemed the hospital's patient advocacy department did everything it could to convince me that the behavior that concerned me never took place. No one said "I'm sorry you were uncomfortable" and no one held anyone accountable, at least in any way that was demonstrated to me directly. Even if I was out of line and my concerns ill-founded, it seems to me that a great deal more finesse would be called for.

By the way, I wouldn't be writing about this issue if it was a first, but in attempting to help a sick parent in prior times, I've gotten a lot more data. My sense is that this approach--advocacy department as department of deniability--is far too common.

That being said, I'm not a researcher, just an analyst trying to make sense of my own experiences. Readers, what do you think? Is there a problem out there with helping patients who feel angry, injured or concerned? If so, what solutions have you heard about or implemented? - Anne

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