Seven pro-tips for family advocates

Family advocates are the unrecognized heroes in countless American families. When a parent or loved one falls ill or has an accident, it’s often a child or family member who must step up to be their primary caregiver.

It’s natural for our society to accept this, as it is unfortunately all too common. Dig deeper, however, and it’s painfully obvious that most of these caregivers are unprepared and inexperienced with the healthcare system.

Add kids, a career, and basic necessities of life, and caregiving essentially turns into a second job when dealing with insurance, medications, doctors’ visits, and other needs in their spare time.

Two common caregiver struggles:

  1. The Adult-Child Caregiver, who faces the complications of both caring for their parent(s) and managing their schedule and raising their family
  2. The Crisis Manager, who faces a loved one in a medical emergency, is thrown into emotional and potential chaos with long-term effects ranging from insurance claims to hospital bills, rehabilitation, and potential life-long chronic conditions.

Tips To Help Alleviate Caregiver Struggles:

1). Be Prepared

If you’re not actively taking care of a loved one — or even if you are — it’s never too early to start a conversation for the “what ifs” in life.

Exploring what a parent or spouse desires and expects as they age in terms of care, living arrangements, quality of life, and last wishes can only help both of you. Having a Living Will and Medical Powers of Attorney in place before something goes wrong ensures your loved one’s wishes will be followed when an issue arises. 

A big part of being prepared includes knowing your rights as an advocate and the rights of your loved ones. While doctors and nurses are extremely skilled medical professionals and know what’s best for their patients, you know your loved ones better than they do. By taking their advice under consideration, you can make the best and most informed decision for your loved one. 

2). Stay Organized

Managing medical bills (even your own!) means a myriad of messy and confusing paperwork. Here’s where a lot of people make mistakes: they quickly write a note to themselves on the top of a loved one’s bill or EOB (Explanation of Benefits) and then… can’t remember what it means a short two months later.

Keep your loved one’s paperwork in one location, with plenty of extra paper for recording detailed notes.

Even better: An electronic record is searchable when you need to go back and find something and is easier to share with doctors if the situation calls for it.

3). Double-Check and Cross Reference Records

Set aside time to review your loved one’s medical paperwork and cross-reference bills to make sure you’re paying them on time and not being double-billed or overcharged. Physicians’ offices and hospitals can sometimes be aggressive when follow-up on outstanding bills, including sending them to collections.

Staying on top of paperwork ensures you’ll avoid collections, which minimizes bargaining power and can negatively impact your loved one’s credit scores.

4). Know Your Insurance Policy

Knowing what’s covered under your loved one’s insurance policy is important. At a minimum, you should know the deductible limit, when the policy renews, and copayments for regular and specialist visits.

Additionally, in the fine print of most insurance policies, you’ll find a time limitation for any appeals. Make sure you know how long you have to question any benefit denials.

5). Archive Doctor’s Care Reports

Thanks to electronic medical records, your loved one will be issued a written summary of the appointment after every doctor’s visit, including any findings, new medications, requested tests, and issued appointments.

If you live far away, you can usually get a copy of this document sent to you electronically or access it through a patient portal.

Pro Tip: In accordance with HIPAA laws, unless you have Medical Powers of Attorney, your loved one must express written permission for you to have access to this information. Keep in mind it can sometimes take up to a week for approval to be granted “into the system.”

6). Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, ask for a more detailed explanation, or to ask for a follow-up to issues related to how many bills you should expect. You have every right to this information on behalf of your loved one, explained in a way you can understand.

Remember that your job is to watch out for the well-being of your family member. There’s no such thing as dumb questions when it comes to putting their health first. 

You should also remember that asking questions isn’t making you a burden to the medical staff watching over your loved one. It’s the job of doctors and nurses to take the time to explain everything that’s happening to your loved one and the procedures they’re performing.

You also shouldn’t think of questions as a challenge to your doctor’s authority. You and your loved one simply want to understand what’s happening and why it’s happening. Make sure to use tact and respect when speaking with medical professionals, and they will respond in kind.  

Pro Tip: As the old saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. It’s okay to be clear in your requests, but don’t forget to be respectful and kind when you do it.

7). Realize When You Need Help

It’s okay to ask for help. Again, it’s okay to ask for help. Sometimes, all the details and paperwork can get in the way of a simple truth: one person can’t do it all.

If you have a choice, spend your precious time with your loved one, enjoying each other’s company and letting someone else help with the administrative aspects.

Summary: Ask for Professional Assistance

Along with knowing when to ask for help, you should also know when to hire a professional advocate. Professional advocates have more knowledge and experience dealing with the politics and loopholes of the medical system.

No matter how many questions you ask or how much research you do, there will always be things that you’re unaware of.