Every healthcare provider, from the blue color worker whose primary responsibility is the maintenance of operating room suite furnishings, to the cardiac surgeon performing high risk, complicated and life saving surgery, should be a patient advocate.

What exactly is patient advocacy? The moment a patient makes a decision to trust their life, health and wellbeing to another person, that person takes on an advocates’ responsibility to protect the rights of the patient.

What rights need protecting?

The right to privacy. All billing information, including social security number, age, health information, such as blood type, reason for seeking health care, are all privileged information that should not be shared with anyone not directly involved in the care of the patient. An example of information needing protecting would be the patient’s chart.

The right to be treated in a fair and unbiased manner. Regardless of a patient’s sex, religion, national origin, sexual preference, insurance, and or age, patients should be treated with respect, given equal opportunity to the same level of health care as others. An example of this would be the Medicare patient given the same treatment as the private patient.

The right to be treated with dignity. Patient’s undergoing procedures in the hospital are often stripped of their clothing, glasses, hearing aid, wigs, etc. Healthcare workers may take it for granted that the patient understands the importance of this and may not fully explain when they are going to be touched, such as when electrodes for EKG are being placed on the patient’s skin, or uncovered, as when a stethoscope is placed on the chest to allow the worker to listen to the heart. The surgery patient needs advocacy the most.

Surgery patients, in addition to having their clothing and belongings removed, are often put to sleep and cannot defend or protect themselves. Not only are they strapped to a table by a safety belt and arm straps, they are usually naked. They have to be kept warm. Nothing should be allowed to rest or press on their body, such as tables which hold instruments, or the surgeon or nurses. Unnecessary exposure of their bodies should be avoided. Only the body part being operated on should be uncovered. The anesthetized surgery patient is at the mercy of their healthcare staff.

Keeping equipment safe and the environment clean to further protect the patient is the most basic tenets of advocacy. It demonstrates the importance of each and every member of the healthcare team, from the housekeeper to the anesthesiologist.

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