How to Be a Patient Advocate for a Family Member

Families and patients can experience difficult times during the latter’s hospital stays. A family caregiver can become a patient advocate to ensure the patient gets the right treatment that accelerates their recovery. If you’re the primary family caregiver, it’s crucial to learn how to be a patient advocate for a family member.

As an advocate, your roles include monitoring hospital staff when carrying out instructions, asking for clarifications, keeping track of medications, and more. All these duties can make a big difference during your loved one’s hospital stay. However, the role can be overwhelming and a bit scary especially when navigating the complex healthcare system.

How can you shift from a family caregiver into a patient advocate when you accompany your loved one on a hospital visit? Here, we take a look at important aspects of being a patient advocate.

What is a Patient Advocate?

What is a patient advocate in a hospital? A patient advocate is a person who acts on behalf of the patient and is in charge of communications, asking the care team the right questions. The advocate can be a friend, family member, or even a close professional caregiver. As a patient advocate, you must put the patient’s interest first during a hospital visit or stay.

Why should a patient have an advocate at the hospital?

The idea of having a patient advocate is something more hospitals are increasingly embracing. Hospitals are accepting the fact that an advocate can affect the quality and level of care a patient receives. Advocates can help stop potential problems before they become a stumbling block to patient recovery.

When a disabled or aging loved one is tired, delirious, or in pain, they may not be able to see things from a clear perspective. That means they won’t be able to speak up against something, ask the right questions, or even remember conversations. A patient advocate does those things.

Here are a few more healthcare advocacy examples that can help clarify the importance of a patient advocate:

Describe the beginning of an ailment

Describe the beginning of an ailment

Care providers don’t have a baseline knowledge of how the patient’s ailments started if they’re experiencing cognitive decline. They’re more likely to assume that their current state is due to their current lifestyle. However, an advocate knows and can best describe the origin of the current condition.

Warn medical staff about allergies or drug reactions

While these issues are often recorded in a patient file, mistakes can happen and a care provider may misinterpret or not read the file properly. A patient advocate can catch any mistakes before they happen and provide information about the patient’s allergies or bad reactions.

Get things moving at the right pace

Sometimes, care providers are overwhelmed with a large number of patients. This can lead to extending more attention to certain patients while others appear to be neglected. With an advocate around, this cannot happen. The advocate will question instances of “neglect” and ensure the patient is attended to at the right time.

When figuring out how to be a patient advocate for a family member, it’s important to note that the role is about speaking up confidently and with kindness. It doesn’t involve rudeness, hostility, or using unkind words. The advocate pushes for the patient to receive the best available care, but with kindness.

How To Be a Patient Advocate for a Family Member

Now that you understand what an advocate does and why their role is important, let’s proceed to how you can advocate for your loved one. Whether you’re a close friend or a family member, you can follow these tips to become a successful patient advocate.

Be a respectful advocate

How you act in the hospital will greatly determine the kind of treatment your loved one receives from care providers. Being respectful means asking the right questions with kindness. It also means making decisions according to the preferences or wishes of your loved one.

Be a respectful advocate

To be a respectful advocate, you need to be a good communicator by:

  • Listening more and talking less;
  • Maintaining clarity and objectivity;
  • Basing your conversations on facts;
  • Saying thank you often.

When your communication with the patient and medical staff is respectful, it opens doors to better care for your loved one.

Ask Questions if you don’t understand

The medical industry has its share of tough jargon, but most providers try their best to use simple language. However, they don’t know your level of knowledge of these terms. From time to time, they throw in a word or two that sounds unfamiliar. It’s perfectly okay to interrupt them and ask for clarification.

Here are some of the questions you may use:

  • Sorry but I didn’t catch that. Could you please explain it more simply?
  • I want to be sure that I understand what you say. In what other way would you elaborate on what you mean?
  • Would it be fine if I reiterate what I heard?

Many people may be afraid to ask questions due to the inherent power dynamics, or they may think it’s a silly question. But just know that no question is silly when it comes to the well-being of your loved one. Speak up for them, even if you don’t have the courage to. You may not be comfortable with how things are being done, but at least you should understand what’s going on.

Equip yourself with a pen and notebook

While at the hospital, you’ll notice so many medical staff come and go and it may be difficult to recall who they are and what they said. But with a notebook and a pen, you can write down important information they share with you. Write down the names of the nurses, doctors, and specialists.

Also, record the medications they recommend or administer, the date, and the time. This can be particularly helpful, especially if the information you’re getting is conflicting. If you can, find a journal, as it can help you keep track of things clearly while with the patient at home.

Be keen, watch out for mistakes

Be keen, watch out for mistakes

Even in medical settings, mistakes can happen, but if an advocate is attentive, they can monitor processes to prevent avoidable errors. Ensure every medical practitioner attending to your loved one knows about any underlying bad reactions to medications and allergies.

Create a list of all medications with their dosages and schedules. Whenever a change occurs, note it down and inform everyone else attending to the patient. If new medications are introduced, don’t forget to ask what they are for, their dosage, and for how long will the patient need to take them. Also, ask about the types of side effects to expect and what should be done.

 If you feel you’re not keen enough or may not know when a mistake is happening, you can opt for a private patient advocate. These are clinical providers employed by a hospital or an agency to advocate on behalf of a patient. Private advocates are obligated to focus on a single patient in one go. This ensures that they get facts straight and know the patient’s progress towards recovery. 

Keep your loved one in the know

Hospital stays can make a person delirious or disoriented, especially if it’s a senior. When learning how to be a patient advocate for a family member, you should know that patients need to be kept inthe loop. Let them know what day it is and the current happenings. Read them a newspaper in a reassuring voice and ensure they have their hearing aid, eyeglasses, and dentures.

Be on the lookout for any indicators of delirium, especially after a medication. Some narcotic medicines like Haldol, can make seniors feel confused. If possible, ask whether there’s an alternative medication without such side effects.

Reach out to the patient advocacy department If you feel your loved one is not receiving the right level and quality of care or their concerns are not being addressed.

Must Every Hospital Have A Patient Advocate?

Must Every Hospital Have A Patient Advocate?

Are hospitals required to have a patient advocate? While hospitals are not legally mandated to have a patient advocate, most do offer the service. That’s because the healthcare system is complicated and it can be difficult for most people to navigate. While entering the hospital, find out if they have a patient advocate department.

Some hospitals offer it as a chargeable service, while others don’t. To help lower your medical expenses, inquire if they have free patient advocate services.

When to request a patient advocate

So, when should you ask for a patient advocate? If your loved one has a complex medical diagnosis or you need help navigating unclear insurance and financial issues. Also, you may ask for a patient advocate from the hospital if your loved one needs advice and emotional support in making end-of-life care decisions.


Navigating the complex healthcare system can be difficult, which is why it’s necessary to learn how to be a patient advocate for a family member. A patient advocate looks after the rights of a patient, making sure everything is done the right way. They can also identify mistakes related to the medication and dosages, or inform medical staff about allergies and bad reactions.

It requires you to speak up with confidence but respectfully and with kindness. If you feel you’re not sure about playing the role, you can get a patient advocate in a hospital to help. Alternatively, take a short family caregiver course to learn how you can be an advocate for your loved ones in the hospital.


What is a patient advocate?

A patient advocate is a person who acts on behalf of the patient and is in charge of communications, asking the care team the right questions. The advocate can be a friend, family member, or even a close professional caregiver. Patients can also choose a medical practitioner from a hospital to act as their advocate.

What does a patient advocate do?

Patient advocates support the patient by asking questions and making decisions on their behalf. It involves helping patients communicate and negotiate with care providers. Advocates stand up for patients. Therefore, a patient advocate must be confident, speak clearly, and be observant. But it also requires being kind and respectful to both patients and care providers.

Are hospitals required to have a patient advocate?

No, hospitals are not legally required to have a patient advocate. However, due to the increased need for advocates, most hospitals nowadays offer patient advocacy services. If you feel you don’t have what it takes to advocate for your loved one, ask the hospital if they can provide one.

Can I get a free patient advocate in a hospital?

Yes, you can. Most hospitals nowadays recognize the importance and role of a patient advocate. As such, it’s possible to find a patient advocacy department in a hospital with advocates ready to serve patients. Some hospitals offer this service at a fee while some offer it for free. You can also find other third-party organizations that provide free patient advocacy, such as the Center for Patient Partnerships.

Can I learn to be a patient advocate?

Yes, you can learn the roles and how to be a patient advocate for a family member. Most family caregiver courses also include patient advocacy training. By taking a short online course, you can learn what you need to know about advocating for your loved one at the hospital. Check out Caregiver Courses for comprehensive family caregiver courses.

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