When Should You Seek Help from an Advocate and How to Become Your Own Advocate

by Lisa McPhee, Open Arms Content Writer | February 25, 2023

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Navigating the Canadian healthcare system can be an overwhelming undertaking. Whether it involves a loved one or yourself, often you can be placed in situations where you are not sure in which direction to head. This is where the advocates at Open Arms Patient Advocacy can assist and guide your personal health care journey.  They can provide aid to those patients who cannot, or do not feel comfortable self-advocating within the healthcare system. By providing support and access to additional resources, patient advocates can help patients find the right physician, seek second opinions, voice complaints, and access medical documents.

When Should you Seek Help?

  • Have you experienced poor care in the hospital or another facility?
  • Are your concerns not being addressed?
  • Have you been treated with prejudice, or without compassion?
  • Do you want to bring issues to the attention of the system to assist in improving care for others?
  • Are you struggling with mental health issues?
  • Do you require assistance with family support and being made aware of the resources available to you?
  • Have you endured a medical fatality?

How can I empower myself to self-advocate or learn to advocate for my loved ones?

As outlined in a previous blog post: “How do I advocate for myself as a patient?” At Open Arms Patient Advocacy, our ultimate mission is to assist our clients in learning how to become independent advocates. The most important skill to ascertain is becoming proficient at self-advocacy. Self-advocacy encompasses multiple aptitudes, the most important of which is knowledge and persistence. Knowing your rights, gathering the facts, and being prepared to show respectful resistance can greatly improve your care, or answer any unresolved issues you may have. Equip yourself with these and you will be well on your way.

Self-advocacy encompasses multiple aptitudes, the most important of which is knowledge and persistence.

  1. Know your rights. It is paramount to your care to understand your rights as a patient. The Canadian Patients’ Bill of Rights can be reviewed here. For additional information regarding a privacy breach, to place a complaint and to understand your rights visit Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
  2. Review your medical records. This step can be vital to understanding your diagnosis, treatment and can often clarify any miscommunications that may have occurred. There is a variety of methods you can use to obtain your records. First, can be as simple as contacting your family doctor. Second, you can contact the hospitals Health Information/Records Management Fees may be associated and will vary according to length and record format.
  3. Reach out to organizations. There are many organizations that can help provide support and aid the patient in becoming knowledgeable in their diagnosis. AHS (Alberta Health Services) provides access to a large assortment of support agencies. To locate the ones best for you, explore here.
  4. Place a complaint. We would always recommend discussing your complaints with your care team in the facility first. They know you best. This could resolve issues and provide clarity. Leaving you feeling much more satisfied. In the event this is not possible there are multiple agencies in place to file a complaint. This may be ideal to make a systemic change so other patients do not have to go through similar issues. To file your complaint involving an AHS facility or staff, contact AHS’s patient relations department. There you can fill out an online feedback form. You can give feedback, make suggestions to improve healthcare services and give compliments when a healthcare provider has given exemplary care. Alternatively, you can call them at 1-855-550-2555. If your issue is related to your physician, the CPSA (College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta) also has an online form in which you can file your complaint. You can also contact the CPSA, toll free at 1-800-561-3899.
  5. Find a family physician. A family doctor is essential to providing consistent care and obtaining referrals. AHS uses a search tool called  “Alberta Find a doctor.” It can search the primary care networks to find a physician near you accepting new patients. Alternatively, you can call Health Link at 8-1-1, to speak to an information and referral specialist.
  6. Seek a second opinion. In the event you feel you have been misdiagnosed, or have not been receiving the care you need, it can be imperative to reach out for a second opinion. There are several avenues in which you can accomplish this. Contact your family physician and ask them to refer you to a related specialist. Secondarily you can contact any of the non-profit related organizations which can direct you to other appropriate professionals. Finally, you may wish to seek a new family physician.
  7. Access Netcare/Connect Care. Netcare and Connect Care are both electronic health record systems. They can provide immediate information to your healthcare providers including lab results, hospital visits, allergies, medications, diagnostic imaging, and personal demographic information (address, date of birth, emergency contact information etc.). To access a paper copy of your Alberta Netcare report you can approach any healthcare professional who know you personally, such as your doctor or local pharmacist. You can do this informally, but some may request a formal application which may incur some costs. If you have any further questions, you can contact the HIA Help Desk by calling 310-0000 (toll free) then 780-427-8089 or by emailing HIAHelpDesk@gov.ab.ca.

How can Open Arms Advocacy Help?

We advocate for a wide array of patient issues from emergency room care, senior care, women’s health, mental health, and acute care to medical fatalities. We help patients get a second opinion, find a physician, place a complaint, or access medical documents. Open Arms also helps families of patients with guidance, support, and resources to get the answers they require.

If you need a patient advocate, please contact us at advocacy@openarmsadvocacy.com or fill out our intake form.