Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Virtue of an Insistent (and Appreciative) Advocate

This article from yesterday's New York Times health section, "Overattentive Families May Be Underrated," serves as a useful reminder of the importance of advocacy -- especially for those parents who find that they don't take naturally to the role. And though the article is about healthcare, the lessons apply to parents advocating for their kids in the special education system.

Article author Dr. David A. Shaywitz of Boston recounts two situations in which family members of sick people insisted that their loves ones needed immediate attention -- contrary to what medical experts felt was required at the time-- and explains how these families saved their loved ones' lives. (He asserts that overworked doctors and nurses can't spend enough time to pay enough vigilant attention to every patient's condition-- at least not as much as a patient's family can.)

Shaywitz gives some useful advice to laypeople who become advocates.

What not to do: He says he has "seen numerous cases in which hypervigilant families actually ensured that their relative received worse care, families so irritating that everyone avoided their room unless it was absolutely essential."

What to do: "The most effective families, it seems to me, are those who genuinely appreciate the efforts of frequently overwhelmed healthcare providers and who seek to work with them to help care for their relatives. At the same time, as a concerned family member, you may know the patient better than anyone else, and if you see something that doesn't seem right, speak up."

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