A Role in Patient Advocacy

While patient advocacy groups have emerged to help patients and their families maneuver the fragmented, complex healthcare system, we forget that healthcare providers are often better positioned to advocate for patients.

Physicians as Advocates

Earlier this year, I reviewed a CT scan of the brain of a patient who had an unfortunately severe stroke. Just the day prior, the patient had another CT scan of the neck and brain to look at the arteries (which can identify a stroke before it does its damage). A software issue presented the neck images only. The interpreting physician made no note of the clot in an artery (presented in the head images, which were available but not shown) which might have spared the patient from the stroke.

When I brought the issue to administration, responses included “any change would make the workflow difficult for other staff,” “we don’t have the technology for that,” and “billing would not accommodate that type of change.”

Strengthening Patients’ Voices

None of these responses are reasonable or sufficient, especially for the patients this could protect in the future, but it stresses an important point: everyone can indeed play a role in patient advocacy. Even health IT vendors can impact patients lives by being sensitive to feature requests, particularly if they are coming from health providers.

As physicians, we are on the front line, and have an obligation to our patients to question our current practices, and create awareness about problems and roadblocks that exist, whether this is through direct communication with people in your practice, through social media channels (such as the Twitter chat #hcldr for health care leaders), or professional organizations.

At Luma Health, we as a company are trying to strengthen the patient voice in the scheduling process. Scheduling is the entry point in getting the right care for patients. When a patient is told to wait undue time for an appointment, it is not only frustrating, but bad healthcare.

We still have a long way to go with patient advocacy, but we are taking small, impactful steps to get there.

Tashfeen Ekram, MD, is a radiologist, self-taught coder, healthcare innovator and Co-Founder of Luma Health. Contact him on Twitter at @tashfeenekramMD.

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