by Long Hwa-shu
Teri Dreher was glad she intervened when her 74-year-old father in-law fell critically ill while on a cruise in the Caribbean.
Not only did she save his life, the episode led her to found a patient advocacy company.
North Shore Patient Advocates with offices in Chicago and Libertyville helps patients navigate the chaos, fears and uncertainties of a hospital stay and to avoid medical errors and, of course, to promote better health care.
“The healthcare system has become so complex and profit-driven, patients get lost in the shuffle,” said Dreher of Libertyville, a registered nurse with 30 years of experience in critical care.
Her father in-law was celebrating with her mother in-law their 50th wedding anniversary when he became gravely ill aboard the cruise ship. Quickly, she suspected the culprit was a life-threatening blood clot and intervened.
Treated first by a ship-side doctor, he was taken to a hospital ashore in Belize where he was treated and released. He was then flown back home to an area hospital where he stayed for nearly six weeks. Diagnoses proved her to be right in the beginning.
The experience made her wonder: “What if he didn’t have a nurse in the family watching out for him?”
In a large measure, it prompted her to found in 201l the North Shore Patient Advocates which today has become the largest advocacy in the Chicago area in terms of size and patient load which she declined to disclose, however.
With medical errors known to be the third leading cause of death behind cancer and heart disease, patient advocacy, as well as intervention, is in dire need.
A surgeon in West Harrison, N.Y., for instance, had to intervene on his own behalf last year when he was hospitalized to avert some mishaps of his preoperative care and postoperative complications. A North Carolina woman, herself a psychiatric clinical nurse, almost died in a hospital when doctors failed to diagnose that her pain was from a perforated intestine rather than from gas. She developed massive infections and stayed in the hospital for a month, mostly in a coma. There are countless stories like these.
“Up to 440,000 patients die in the hospital each year due to medical errors,” said Dreher, citing a 2013 study.
“Try to avoid hospitalization, if possible, especially if the patient is elderly,” she advised, adding , “The elderly are most vulnerable to infections which often rage at hospitals.”
Nevertheless, hospitalization is necessary in many cases.
Hospitals are a growing industry, so is patient advocacy – a relatively new industry which has been surging since the Affordable Care Act, according to Dreher who received her training at the Memorial Hospital of Nursing in Worcester, Mass. She also took nursing classes at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
For founding the patient advocacy company, she was named the Entrepreneur of the Year in 2014 by the Chamber of Commerce of Libertyville, Mundelein, Vernon Hills and Green Oaks. She said she gets most of her clients via her website: www. Northshorern.com.
Dreher uses a team approach. Her team comprises three registered nurses, each with distinctive specialties and a former social worker with what Dreher describes as “a formidable record of winning insurance claims.”
In addition to looking out for patients during their hospitalization, the services provided by her team include:
• Educating patients and their families about patients’ medical conditions,
• Finding and identifying the best possible doctor, hospital or nursing home for the patient,
• Asking doctors the questions a layperson wouldn’t know how to ask,
• Researching a patient’s full range of treatment options following a diagnosis,
• Helping to ensure insurance claims get paid.
“Many people think `advocate’ implies `adversarial,’ but that is not true,” said Dreher who belongs to the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants and the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates.
Busy doctors, she pointed out, “would rather spend five minutes updating a medical professional than 20 minutes with an overwhelmed patient. They know the advocate will educate the patient.”
Dreher said her experience tells her that doctors and hospitals will be on their toes when they know an insider is watching.
As a result, patients with advocates receive “superior care,” according to her.