Five Minutes with Dorothy Kamaker: Patient Advocate

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Dorothy Kamaker spent over 35 years working as nurse in Sydney and advocating for her patients. Increasingly, she observed patients and their families struggling with the healthcare system. In 2013 Dorothy qualified as an independent patient advocate and in 2014 founded Patient Advocates Australia in Sydney. Dorothy now draws on her experience and advocacy training and works alongside patients, helping them manage their health care to achieve the best health outcomes possible.

Independent patient advocacy is common in the USA and UK but is a relatively new concept in Australia. The first service started in Australia about five years ago and is one important support option that people can use when confronted with a serious and complex illness.  

When someone is diagnosed with a serious illness, especially something as complex as head and neck cancer, it is usually a time of great anxiety and need but one where people are least able to plan and cope.

For many people the stress involved in dealing with their illness or that of a close family member can be overwhelming. A patient advocate helps clients navigate what can often be a complex health care system.

A patient’s adherence to treatment, compliance and health outcomes are known to be optimised when they have effective support. Typically, a patient advocate joins a patient’s team as early as possible after a diagnosis and ensures the navigation, co-ordination and documentation of their care that may involve multiple disciplines and institutions.

The role of a patient advocate can include:

  • attending medical appointments and taking notes on behalf of a patient, translating and explaining medical advice and treatments
  • acting as a communication hub between family members, healthcare providers and patients
  • demystifying the language and culture of the health system and eliminating the barriers that patients frequently confront
  • helping patients to understand their illness and treatment options, assist them to make informed decisions, find specialists or services, source second opinions and monitor hospital care.

An independent patient advocate is engaged directly by the patient or their family to work for them to achieve the best outcomes possible. This relationship ensures that the management of the patient’s care will be centred on the individual’s needs and that their views are heard and understood by everyone involved.

Patient advocates also teach patients and their families skills and strategies to enable them to feel confident in taking charge of their own case management.

Dorothy advocated for her patients during her nursing career and now draws on that experience and her advocacy training to support patients cope with illness and the complexities of the health system.