Renee Keats, MPH
What compelled you to get involved in patient advocacy?
The healthcare industry can be confusing even when one is not ill. For those of us who have been exposed to the intricacies of this field, it is imperative that we remember who it is, exactly, we are working for: the patient. I became passionate about patient (and health) advocacy after a family member was hospitalized for pneumonia and was just too tired and overwhelmed to get the answers to her questions regarding the treatment plan, as well as the post-hospitalization care. Because of my knowledge of the health industry and my comfort in working with various medical professionals and agencies, I was able to "advocate,” or speak, on my family member's behalf and ensure that she received the level of care that I felt was needed.
What is your healthcare background?
I started my work in Public Health when I was 15 as a volunteer for the National SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) Alliance. From there I earned a BA in Public Health from the University of Rochester. Shortly after completing my degree, I moved to Chicago and worked with a hospital in the western suburbs where I focused on customer satisfaction and issue resolution. In this capacity, I developed an understanding of the effectiveness of patient advocacy for patients, their families, as well as for the medical staff. I completed my master's in Public Health from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2000 with a focus on Policy and Law. Since receiving my Master's degree, I have worked in skilled nursing, DME and for a major health insurer in a variety of positions.
What are two or three essential components of successful patient advocacy?
First is to have the ability to really listen to what the customer (patient, family, caregiver, medical professional) is telling you — not only verbally but also through body language. Second, you must have empathy and patience. Not having the same or similar experiences as your customers isn't important as long as you are able to relate to what they are feeling. Finally, the ability to effectively communicate with all of your customers without letting your passion, enthusiasm or (in some cases) anger get in the way of helping the patient get what he/she wants and needs.
Name the biggest challenge you face in your advocacy efforts.
Not being a registered health care provider is often a barrier.
What are the main benefits of PPAI membership?
Networking with other professionals in my field.
If there was one thing you could change in healthcare, what is it?
There are quite a few. I would love to see the culture of medicine change. Instead of seeing a patient as a diagnosis, symptom or someone who needs to be dealt with, it would be great if we could get a better sense that the patient is the consumer and the customer of care. He/she is entitled to ask questions and seek answers necessary to make informed decisions.
What hobbies do you pursue outside of patient advocacy?
My husband and I are quite focused on supporting the locally grown food industry and decreasing our carbon footprint with regard to food. We have a garden, cook and can our food. We also sail on Lake Michigan and when we have the occasion on the Chesapeake Bay.
Read any good healthcare books lately? If not, any other good reads?
I am currently reading The Discovery of Witches and The Color of Water.
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