Taste of Informatics

Healthcare Advocacy - adding clarity and understanding to a confusing medical landscape

August 12, 2021 Informatics+, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University Season 1 Episode 6
Taste of Informatics
Healthcare Advocacy - adding clarity and understanding to a confusing medical landscape
Show Notes Transcript


How do you build knowledge and hone skills that can insure someone can gain the healthcare that they need, by navigating our complex and varied healthcare systems? How do you build community around different ideas related to heath care? And how do you determine what those ideas are at the community level.

Dr. Whitney Darnell of the College of Informatics Communication Department discusses these questions, and provides insight into how Health Communication students learn these very important concepts and skills.

Learn more about the Health Communication Program.

Mike Nitardy:

Welcome to the Informatics Cafe. My name is Mike Nitardy and I will be your host. Today specialist health care advocacy. And with us in the cafe today to discuss healthcare advocacy is Dr. Whitney Darnell. Dr. Darnell is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Northern Kentucky University in the College of Informatics. Whitney, it's great to have you with us today. Thanks for joining us.

Whittney Darnell:

Thank you very much. And thank you for having me.

Mike Nitardy:

Our pleasure, our pleasure. So I guess we will just start right off with the most basic question, which is what is healthcare advocacy.

Whittney Darnell:

I am so thrilled to be invited to talk about healthcare advocacy, and particularly healthcare advocacy in terms of the way we're looking at it here at NKU and n some of the projects that we ave going on. But when we're ta king about healthcare advocacy we're really talking about a et of skills that individu ls need that persons working n the healthcare field need t navigate complex diagnose , to put pieces together between how they can adhere t treatment plans at home and connect those dots together And then even as we'll talk abo t, I think, as we get into thi , how we build communit around different ideas that hav to do with health care, an diagnoses and resource for those things

Mike Nitardy:

Mmm hmm.

Whittney Darnell:

at the policy level, as well. So when we're talking about advocacy, we're talking about a set of skills that we need as we communicate our health needs and our health experiences in our interpersonal everyday lives with our in the relationships that we have, but also at that community level and figuring out what insurance plan to need, how do I afford these things, and then starting to look big picture at what's missing and not missing at a broader level or a policy level.

Mike Nitardy:

So and that's obviously a lot, it's very fascinating. And I'm so glad that you're here with us today to talk about this. And I know our guests are eager to learn about it as well. So if you could, in a couple of minutes, explain to someone you know what they need to know about health care advocacy, what would you tell them?

Whittney Darnell:

So when we're talking about health care advocacy, we're really talking about building skills that are related to 'Can individual go that go out there and ensure that they can get access to the health care needs that they need?' Can they navigate the often really complex and varied healthcare systems that we have, whether that be private insurance or Medicaid? Or even something like designing an IEP for a child that you might have at school is a system of care that requires health care advocacy. You have to sometimes be able to mobilize resources. You have to be able to understand and assess health inequities and why they occur. Ultimately, a lot of health advocates find themselves in positions where they are trying to influence health policy. And ultimately, as part of the definition of a health advocate, you're you're doing these things because you're trying to create change, whether that be for an individual themselves or someone in your family, for example, or some broader systematic change. As a communication scholar, and if you read our work, we look at all of those things. And we're like, Man, that all requires communication skills at a variety of levels.

Mike Nitardy:

Right.

Whittney Darnell:

So when I so when I look at healthcare advocacy through different projects that I've done, I'm really sensitive to the communication work that is required to successfully perform all the things that I talked about ensuring access to care, navigating systems, mobilizing resources, who are people talking to, what are the roadblocks, what makes it hard? We have to go and find those things, so that we can then zero in and make those changes or help people to make those changes for themselves.

Mike Nitardy:

Very good. So I guess that that kind of in my mind, and maybe also in our in our listeners minds as well, makes me wonder is is a healthcare advocate? Is it something that it's an actual job? Or is it also something that people can do for themselves or within the industry or, or tell us a little bit about that?

Whittney Darnell:

It can be both. So everyone, everyone will find themselves in a position and being a health advocate. At some point in their lives. You may walk wind up taking care of a parent at some point in your life. So you may become a health advocate at that point, if you have a child that has a disability, or a chronic illness, you're going to become a health advocate for them, you may have a special diagnosis or something that you need, where you have to advocate for yourself at work at school in the community. So there's obviously various degrees of how much of this you have to utilize, depending on your wellness or your you're able bodied ness, or whatever it might be. But everyone will use health advocacy skills. And that's what makes the classes when we teach these awesome to teach, because even if you're not going into healthcare field, and there are health advocacy jobs, and I'll get into that in a minute, but even if you're not and I have several students in my class who are not going into health care they're still very much able to relate to the content and the skill building, because they still have to go to the doctor.

Mike Nitardy:

Right.

Whittney Darnell:

And these skills are going to help help you communicate, and think through what kind of treatment plans, what kind of behaviors are going to work well in your life? And speaking up, and getting the information and support you need for whatever it might be. Whether it's quitting smoking, losing weight, you know, maybe even chasing a life goal and getting the resources you need there. That's all part of our overall wellness. And those advocacy skills come into play. Now for the career side, we get that question all the time. I

get that question all the time:

"If I sign up to be a health communication major, what do I do with that? I don't even know what that means." And so that is our number one question that we get. And so in addition to learning how to research and write, and how to create messages, and those things that we we do as health communication scholars, we also prepare students for careers in the health advocacy field. And that can take a variety of different paths.

Mike Nitardy:

Mmm hmm.

Whittney Darnell:

So if you were to look at Children's Hospital, or many of the hospitals now are hiring patient, what they call patient advocates

Mike Nitardy:

Right.

Whittney Darnell:

in a variety of different forms. And the role of that person is to do exactly what we talked about. They're taking these unique patients, and maybe it's a cancer patient. They're taking this cancer patient, and they're trying to put the pieces together for them. Here's four different treatment plans. Here's some of the research behind it. Here's the different doctors, you're going to be able to talk to. Here's some questions that you might want to ask. And they're trying to take some of that work off of the person that is experiencing this trauma or uncertainty or confusion of this new diagnosis or this long term diagnosis. And they're there doing that work for you of putting those pieces together. And also training you to be a healthy advocate yourself, but not just throwing you to the wolves and saying figure it out on your own. So that is something that is fairly new, as an industry, that has been emerging over probably the last five to seven years

Mike Nitardy:

Mmm hmm.

Whittney Darnell:

as more and more hospitals are hiring professionals who can do that for patients. Who can be kind of that voice in the middle; not just a educator but also someone who can advocate for them. Sometimes they'll even be in the doctor's visits with the family, or with that person if they're asking questions and to try to help them through the decision making process by being their voice. Health Education or health educators is obviously another pathway that takes a health advocacy spin. And then I have one student so far, that has gone gone into some policy work.

Mike Nitardy:

Okay.

Whittney Darnell:

But there are certainly several governmental that you can take. If policy is something paths

Mike Nitardy:

Mmm hmm. that you're interested in, sit in, in. And there are positions for Medicaid for the government where, you know, you do research and you you look at patient policy or you policies that are related to health care, and make recommendations based on that research. So lots of opportunities in healthcare advocacy. I think it's the word that scares people. But I remind everyone, this healthcare advocacy, everyone needs to know at least a little bit to get themselves started. So you said you think it kind of scares people went Why is that?

Whittney Darnell:

A lot of people and my students will tell you the same thing. They get turned off pretty quickly by the word healthcare and associate that with big words and things that they they don't understand.

Mike Nitardy:

Mmm hmm.

Whittney Darnell:

Even having a disciplined conversation about the different types of health insurance policies that are available in the United States, that's very overwhelming

Mike Nitardy:

Right.

Whittney Darnell:

for people. Just kind of understanding the differences between those. Our healthcare system is very complex. And then if you start to tiptoe into publicly funded healthcare, especially through Medicaid, that is extremely complex. Took me a long time to wrap my head around, as I was doing a project related to waiver-based care, of how accessing it is very different. I mean, it's not like your employer based care where I'm an employee here. And so I sign up for my health care, and they take it out of my paycheck.

Mike Nitardy:

Right.

Whittney Darnell:

But when you're accessing Medicaid and waiver based care, you have to, you know, send in all this documentation. You have to prove that you're eligible. You have to do all this work every single year. You have to know what to say. You have all these other requirements, that can be pretty overwhelming for people. And so again, we go back to these skills. How do we slow that down? How do we give you a toolbox that you're like, I don't have to know everything. But I need to have feel empowered. And I need to know enough that I know, you know, what are some good questions to start with? What is that resilience and persistence needed if I don't get my answer here, that I go and go try again, and I go try again, and an understanding that's normal, that this is complex. And just because you didn't get a successful answer, that doesn't necessarily mean you did anything badly.

Mike Nitardy:

Right.

Whittney Darnell:

But there are lots of complications and flaws and and people even within the healthcare system, that don't know the healthcare system very well.

Mike Nitardy:

[laughter]

Whittney Darnell:

You're not alone.

Mike Nitardy:

Yeah, no, exactly. Right. Well, I always like to ask our guests here that join us at the Informatics Caf, you know, what way they'd say that their area is cool or helps the world and I think that we've covered that a lot. But I'll just give you one, one final parting shot on that. If you could tell people what makes the area cool, or how it changes the world? Just let us know.

Whittney Darnell:

Yeah, so what has been so great is when is the reason that I said let's just talk about healthcare advocacy is because it is so versatile. And so I study healthcare advocacy, in a lot of different contexts that have seemingly nothing to do with each other. But it really does come back to this communication work and these communication skills. And even though the context is a little bit different, some of the challenges are the same. And so I think, what makes it really cool is that it's endless in terms of the questions we can ask and the new studies that we can do, and the people and the places that we can go to work on these types of projects. So I love that about our job and what we're doing. But how it changes the world is, and this was so important to me

Mike Nitardy:

Mmm hmm.

Whittney Darnell:

as a scholar and as a as a researcher was that it's really easy to feel like you are making a difference when you are doing this type of work. So it's not just about studies and journal articles that no one will see. But as I'm working in these different projects, you really are hands-on with with the public. And each little kind of subset population that you're working with, you're giving skills back. You're giving back as you go and people are able to transform their lives in amazing ways. Because somebody took the time to build these skills in them. And that's what I find is really amazing. It's hard work and it's intentional work. But it's you're you're building success in your very own community, when you invest in this kind of healthcare, advocacy, missions and work that are that are emerging all around us.

Mike Nitardy:

Fantastic. Fantastic. Well, Whitney, thank you so much for joining us in the cafe today and, and to our guests, thanks so much. Informatics Cafe is a production of Informatics+, the outreach arm of Northern Kentucky University's College of Informatics. Hosted by Mike Nitardy. Produced by Chris Brewer. Music and engineering by Aaron Zlatkin. Recorded at the Informatics Audio Studio in Griffin Hall.