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What is the role of a patient advocate in critical care?

Betty Long, RN, MHA
Nursing Specialist

A patient advocate in critical care can be broadly defined as someone who is looking out for the best interests of the patient when he/she may be critically ill and not able to speak for himself. Just as there are patient advocates in non-critical care settings, an advocate can often be a family member, someone who knows the patient well and can interact with the clinical staff as needed. While it helps a great deal, particularly in the critical care unit, to have an advocate who has clinical experience (a nurse, for example), the most important quality to have is that you can communicate and are not shy about asking questions. If you don't understand something, speak up.

Linda Martinez
Cardiac Rehabilitation Specialist
When patients are in critical care, they are often unconscious or heavily sedated during their critical illness.  Because of this, they cannot speak for themselves and make medical decisions for themselves.  Nurses often play the role of patient advocate.  Nurses will speak up for what they perceive the needs of the patient are because they are with them 24/7.  The nurses often find out from families and friends certain wishes a patient may have and communicate these with the rest of the healthcare team.  This can be as simple as a preferred nickname to be called.  In some cases, more serious questions about a patient condition needs to be answered such as whether to have a risky surgery.  A patient may not have anyone who can make a medical decision on their behalf.  In this care, a judge can appoint someone to make medical decisions in that person's behalf and they are called a patient adocate, but this is rare.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.