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When one MetroHealth doctor’s interest in supporting patients became personal, she saw how both sides of the doctor-patient relationship could be better managed. Her unique viewpoint offers valuable tips for those with loved ones receiving health care.
Holly B. Perzy, MD, internal medicine and pediatric physician, will share her experiences in a series of patient advocacy articles in upcoming issues of SimplyWell. In future issues, we’ll take an in-depth look at patient support from both the patient and physician perspective, as well as strategies for advocating for a child.
Dr. Perzy has a passion for patient advocacy. As an internal medicine and pediatric physician at MetroHealth, she has always empowered her patients and their family members as they seek medical information and navigate the health system.
But over the summer, Dr. Perzy’s experience became even more personal: She advocated for her own mother, who needed lifesaving medical treatment. “My interest in patient advocacy has only grown as I’ve continued to see it from the other side,” she says.
Advocating as a Family Member
Dr. Perzy’s mother, who has some memory loss and an underlying spinal condition, has been in and out of either a hospital or rehabilitation center since May. During this time, she has also weathered pneumonia, a bladder infection and a C. difficile infection.
In July, Dr. Perzy became especially concerned about her mother’s health as she was being readied to leave a local rehabilitation program. “I could see that she was ill, but I wasn’t sure that other people were recognizing this,” Dr. Perzy explains. She asked that her mother undergo blood work but was told testing would have to wait because of the July 4th holiday. As a health provider, Dr. Perzy knew that waiting wasn’t necessary — testing could be done, although it might cost more or need to be completed at an outside lab.
With Dr. Perzy’s persistence, health providers ordered tests, which showed that her mother had sepsis, a life-threatening response to infection. On July 4th, she was admitted to the intensive care unit for septic shock. In addition to low blood pressure, “every organ system was failing,” says Dr. Perzy. “She needed oxygen and her kidney function was so poor she was near to needing dialysis.” But after proper medical treatment and rehabilitation with MetroHealth, she’s now recovering back at home with nursing care.
A Deep Sense of Empathy Gained
While the experience has been difficult, Dr. Perzy has gained several valuable insights into being a patient advocate.
Family concerns can sometimes be overlooked. “One of the key things I’ve learned is that it’s easier to advocate when you’re a physician because you’re viewed as an authority,” says Dr. Perzy. “When you’re a family member, sometimes health care providers don’t give you the same credibility.”
Lack of information can create anxiety. For example, Dr. Perzy’s father became upset at a local hospital when he rang the room buzzer — he needed help getting his wife to the bathroom — and no one responded. “She could have been choking or worse and no one was there,” he later told Dr. Perzy. While he knew that a bathroom break wasn’t a high priority, it would have helped him feel better if the nursing staff checked in quickly to make sure nothing urgent was happening and let him know when someone would return.
Families struggle with coordinating care. Part of ensuring that a loved one receives proper medical care is dealing with logistical demands. Before her mother returned home, Dr. Perzy’s family had to arrange for 24/7 care in only three days. “We needed to line up private care. We needed to interview people. Families need time to organize,” she says, so the staff worked with the family to ensure a smooth transition home.
Advice for Patient Advocates
With the knowledge gained from the experience and her own clinical practice, Dr. Perzy has the following advice for patient advocates:
- Work with the doctor as a team: Build a relationship by letting the doctor know you’re a patient advocate. Let the doctor know you’re eager to help your loved one and would like to take notes during appointments to help remember important information.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions: If you ask the doctor a question and don’t understand the answer, ask for an explanation that avoids medical jargon. Empower yourself with knowledge.
- Find the right person to talk to: Some of your questions about insurance coverage are better addressed by a social worker rather than a doctor. Questions about scheduling the proper medical appointments at the right facilities can be directed to a nurse navigator.
- Communicate with the patient: Regularly check in with your loved one to make sure their questions are being answered and their needs are being met.
Holly Perzy, MD