We tend to take our independence for granted — our capacity to manage and direct our own legal, financial, and medical affairs. It’s something we always assume we’ll be able to do, but there do come times when we have to get a little help to move forward. When this happens, whether through an injury from a car accident or the effects of a long-term illness or ailment, we count on our families and loved ones to see us through the hardship, and sometimes even fight for us when we can’t.
But this is not without its challenges and, indeed, it can be a tough job. The intricacies of traumatic injuries and chronic illnesses, as well as the medical and legal hurdles that frequently come with them, can be difficult for anyone to understand and deal with. Remaining emotionally sound and supportive as you endeavor to do so is, likewise, no easy feat.
Forewarned Is Forearmed
If this has recently become your world, you need to arm yourself with as much information and as many resources as you can. Whatever condition has affected your loved one is something you now need to become an expert in. You need to understand the short- and long-term impacts of that condition, as well as the in’s and out’s of any treatments that are or may become necessary. You will also need to make sure that you understand the level of advocacy that may be required of you, and if or when it may be required of you to legally act on their behalf.
This means that you’re going to have to start documenting, and researching, everything from the hospital your loved one is being treated in, to the staff in charge of their care, to the dates and details of the care itself, as well as any pertinent conversations. Mark down dates, times, and especially any changes in condition. It’s a lot to remember, but details such as this are crucial to ensuring your loved one gets the help and care they need, and you’ll need to start recording them immediately. You’ll also need to make sure that any records of injuries, diagnoses, consultations, medications, and treatments are collected and organized.
Keeping track of these details is not only crucial for ensuring that your loved one receives the medical care that they need, but also to ensure that you can overcome any hurdles you may encounter when working with insurance companies and healthcare providers. It’s not uncommon, especially in catastrophic health care scenarios, for insurers to dispute the medical necessity of a given procedure or to deny claims and coverage if there is insufficient or missing documentation. Should any medical malpractice occur, this will only become more crucial.
If your loved one is facing a situation where they may be unable to understand their treatment options or make decisions for themselves, you may need to talk to them about naming a health care proxy and establishing power of attorney. This will allow you to legally advocate for them in any situation where they may be incapacitated or otherwise unable to advocate for themselves. While some states do make provisions for cases where this did not or could not occur, this frequently does not provide the legal authority for the medical and financial decisions that will need to be made.
Also, know where you can go for help, and don’t be afraid to ask for it. If you think you need a second medical opinion, get one. If there are legal considerations or hurdles that you need help with, consult with an attorney. And with a little research, you will find that there are numerous support organizations for people with hardships and severe medical conditions that can assist financially, logistically, and even emotionally. Likewise, these organizations frequently work to support patients’ caregivers as well.
Patience Is a Virtue
It’s important to know whether you’re in a sprint or a marathon and to pace yourself accordingly. There is a lot to take in and understand, a lot of paperwork and hoops to jump through, and you could be looking at an extended care or recovery picture.
It’s natural to get frustrated, to say the very least, but it’s important to keep your patience for a couple of reasons:
First, it enables you to make rational, measured, and thoughtful decisions. This is not possible when you want answers or solutions, and you want them now. Rushing things increases the chances of making rash decisions that may negatively impact not just you, but your loved one as well. There may be occasions where you need to be there to make an immediate, real-time decision, but the majority of the time, you need to approach things from an informed and level-headed perspective.
Second, being patient with others makes them more inclined to assist you. Your loved one’s doctors and supporters may well have to divide their time between them and several other people, and are themselves, just as human as you and your loved one human.
As well as their advocate, you’re also your loved one’s guardian. You must ensure you keep a watchful eye on them.
Elderly patients, for example, are sometimes subject to abuse at the hands of their carers, whether physical or emotional. Whenever you drop in on an elderly relative or friend, enquire into their care. If you notice anything off, such as a reluctance to discuss the matter or indications of abuse (such as bruising, signs of malnourishment, or an unkempt appearance), look into the matter. Do not be afraid to be nosy. If you find sufficient evidence of malpractice or neglect, then report it immediately to the authorities. If necessary, make arrangements to have your loved one moved to a new facility.
Make sure they’re not being taken advantage of either. Ensure that they never make legal or financial decisions without you present, and keep a careful eye on all their arrangements. If necessary, make legal arrangements to ensure that you’re recognized as their legal guardian and given powers of attorney. This should help prevent people from conning your loved one into making agreements they may not fully understand.
Remember that You, too, Can Ask for Help
If you’re struggling with the legal and financial responsibilities laid upon you as an advocate, you don’t have to struggle alone. Seeking legal advice from a law office may be a good step to ensure you’ve at least got the basics covered, especially as the specifics may vary depending on where you are. The legal landscape of medical malpractice in Florida may differ from that of California, for example, and may even differ within the state depending on which county or municipality you fall under.
A professional opinion never hurts and may save you a major headache further down the line.