In the stress of a hospital environment, it can be challenging for patients and their families to absorb and understand information and to make decisions about medical care.

Dr. Annette Ticoras gave up her medical practice to work as a professional patient advocate. She believes her Westerville based business, Guided Patient Services, is the only one of its kind in Central Ohio. 

Ticoras says she often advises clients to try to slow the process down a bit.

“Always ask, ‘Can I have more time with this and what would the repercussions be if I ask for more time?’” Ticoras said.

“I’m not saying that I would want anyone to delay their care indefinitely or for any extensive period of time if you have something like cancer but it also doesn’t always have that rush, rush feeling that you’re led to believe it has. There is time for you to walk away from the situation and talk it over with your family, friends or someone who may have a little bit more comprehensive grasp of the questions you’re dealing with,” said Ticoras.

Ticoras says having an independent advocate can help patients and families sort through all the information. “Two people in the same room hearing the same speech by a doctor and one walks our and thinks they have three months to live and the other walks out and says – ‘no he said in three months we will reevaluate if the treatment is working’, Ticoras said.

Ticoras says many hospitals have in-house patient advocates that may be able to improve communication but they work for and are paid by the hospitals.

She says if patients or their families have doubts about what they’re hearing, they should seek a second opinion. “A lot of people are uncomfortable with that,” Ticoras said. “They feel as though you’re second guessing who you’ve been working with but that’s expected.”

Dr. Ticoras said she worries that Mount Carmel Health System’s recent admission that a doctor had ordered excessive and potentially fatal overdoses of pain medication for at least 27 near-death patients could have a long-term impact on families making decisions about life saving measures.

“My greatest fear out of all of this is that …. people will start to question whether or not they can trust that those orders will be carried out because comfort-measures-only and do-not-resuscitate does not mean to overmedicate someone,” Ticoras said. “It means just what it says, to keep them comfortable, to not do any heroic measures like chest compressions or ventilators.

“I just fear that something like this will set us back because people were just really getting comfortable with the autonomy we’ve been given to make decisions about our end of life choices.”