As a hospital administrator, your goal is to help your patients become as empowered and informed about their health decisions as possible. Yet, you're no doubt familiar with the very common problem of patients having difficulty advocating for themselves.

They may feel intimidated in a healthcare setting, so they don't speak up about what they want. They may not know they have the right to a wide range of treatment options; or they may be confused about the medical jargon they're hearing, so they don't fully understand their medical condition.

Patient advocacy is the obvious solution to the problem — but many healthcare organizations aren't tapping into all of its potential. Use these novel, research-driven ideas to maximize your advocacy resources, and help each of your patients feel comfortable to achieve better health outcomes.

Improve your hospital's health literacy outreach.

A recent study from the American Heart Association found that more than half of patients surveyed didn't understand the precise meaning of their blood pressure readings or grasp the severity of diabetic complications. Without such crucial comprehension, they aren't in a position to prevent health problems, or pursue the right treatments.

The researchers suggest that hospitals can advocate more effectively for these patients by having doctors avoid complex medical jargon; instead, use pictures or graphics as easy-to-understand teaching tools.

Also, directly introducing patients to their case managers as soon as they're admitted (a formality that is surprisingly done too late in many cases) can quickly provide patients a direct, reliable and reassuring link to resources both during their stays and after discharge.

Adopt around-the-clock visiting hours.

Research from the National Association for Healthcare Quality found that removing visiting hour restrictions helps patients with clinical decision-making. More access allows a trusted, designated relative or friend to listen to doctors' recommendations, explain them to a patient, and advocate for the patient's wishes when appropriate.

A bonus: the researchers found having that personally close advocate near helped patients feel less anxious and isolated in the hospital, and ultimately improved satisfaction ratings upon discharge.

Utilize nurse navigators.

A study from the Group Health Research Institute reports that when newly diagnosed cancer patients connected with a nurse experienced in advocacy procedures, these patients voiced fewer care concerns during the course of their subsequent treatment.

This is because relying on a single point person — a trusted nurse — to inform them about their treatment in-depth, plus offer information about resources for psychological and social care, made patients feel more confident about navigating the complications of their care.

The ideal qualities for a nurse advocate should include empathy, a commitment to protecting the patient's rights, and a commitment to seeing the patient's care process to completion all highly effective attributes.

Learn more from patient feedback.

A Vanderbilt University Medical Center study found that when professional hospital advocates carefully listened to, recorded and analyzed patient complaints about surgeons they felt treated them with rudeness and disrespect, they discovered that those surgeons were more likely to have caused a higher rate of surgical site infections as well.

Your staff advocates should not only help patients directly resolve a dissatisfaction issue by validating and addressing their concerns, they should bring issues to your attention to protect other patients from potential emotional or medical hazards.

Drop in and say hello.

Taking the time to walk the wards and introduce yourself to new patients each day is a great way to find out if their needs are being expressed and addressed.

Promptly address any worries you're informed about — the relief this will give your patients is immeasurable, and what you learn from their experiences and impressions is truly invaluable information.