The Role of the Direct Support Professional in Attending Healthcare Appointments Dec 4, 2012

by Rick Rader, MD

"The Direct Support Professional (DSP) serves as the lynchpin in the delivery of community based healthcare for individuals residing in group homes. They are instrumental in relating key healthcare information to and from the healthcare provider team. EP has long celebrated their service and dedication. This editorial can be copied and distributed to community agencies in the hope that they will continue to support the legions of DSPs as they continue to represent, advocate and protect the individuals who count on them.

"One person caring about another represents life's greatest value," according to Jim Rohn.

As a Direct Support Professional (DSP), you wear many hats. At times you will perform the role of a teacher, a counselor, an instructor, a friend, a translator, a coach, or a personal assistant. In fact, on any given day, you will wear many of these hats. Most of the successful DSP's report that the various roles they are called upon to perform account for the high satisfaction that their job provides.

One of the roles that you may be called upon to assume is the role of an "escort" to an appointment to see a healthcare provider. While every role that a DSP plays is vital and crucial, the role of "healthcare escort" can be among the most important and critical. Indeed, it can be lifesaving.

The "healthcare escort" is responsible for "transporting" TWO things. The FIRST thing is, of course, "the individual" and the SECOND thing is INFORMATION.

Here are the responsibilities of the "DSP Healthcare Escort"

  • To come to the appointment on time; and to announce your arrival to the receptionist.
  • Introduce yourself to the physician or nurse. "Hi, I'm Ralph Smith. I'm here with Doug Clemson, who is here to see you for a follow-up appointment."
  • To provide (if appropriate) any requested information (for example, a written log of sleep patterns for the healthcare provider). This information will be provided to you, but you should always "ask" your supervisor if there is any material that needs to be given to the nurse or physician.
  • To inform the nurse or physician "why you are there." For instance, "This is a follow-up visit for a bee sting," or, "This is for his three-month follow-up for blood pressure." You need to KNOW why you are there!
  • To provide any important information to the healthcare provider ("How long has this been bothering him or her?"..."Has this ever happened to him or her before?")
  • Tell the healthcare provider what your level of familiarity is with the individual. ("I'm sorry, I only started working with him two weeks ago." Or, "I've known him for six years and in all that time, this never happened to my knowledge.")
  • Be cooperative and provide any requested assistance. If the provider asks you to remove his/her "shoes and socks," you have an obligation to do it, and do it in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration. If you are asked to sit beside the individual and stroke his/her hand for emotional support, do it with a smile (realizing that you are helping to reduce their anxiety).
  • Provide a current list of all medications, including any vitamins or supplements; or the use of oxygen. The DSP should also have a list and understanding of any medical devices, including "implanted devices" such as a "vagus nerve stimulator" or an insulin pump. The DSP should be sure to mention any "assistive technology" devices such as an "augmentative communication board."
  • If you are given any information about "follow-up care" (medications, next appointments, special instructions), be sure to get it in writing and that you FULLY understand all the instructions (and who to inform when you return to the home, classroom, work area.). ASK IF YOU ARE NOT CERTAIN ABOUT ALL THE INSTRUCTIONS. It's a good idea to go over the information. You might say, "It is my understanding that you want me to ..."
  • Show the provider that you are there 100% for the individual. You should NOT be using your cell phone, texting, or using a headset or earphones. You should not be eating or reading. You should ask if there is anything you can do BEFORE they request help.
  • Going to a doctor, dentist or therapist can be very stressful for people who cannot fully appreciate the reason they are there, and the DSP can play a very important role in easing the emotional burden of these visits. By doing so, the healthcare provider will be in a better position to get a more accurate picture of the problem, and, therefore, will be better prepared to create a treatment plan.
  • The DSP also has the responsibility to represent his/her "profession" to others. By your behavior, you can demonstrate that DSP's deserve the respect they have earned by being conscientious, committed, and diligent "professionals."
  • The knowledgeable DSP reinforces the healthcare provider's ongoing interest and commitment in seeing our individuals.
  • At all times, you must view your role as the "bridge" between the "individual" and the "healthcare provider." This bridge (the DSP) can mean the difference between insuring a meaningful, successful medical appointment, and a "missed opportunity."
  • When in doubt, you can always ask yourself, "How would I want someone escorting my compromised/disabled father, mother, sister, brother, husband, wife, or child to the doctor to behave and represent their best interests?" That should serve as your guiding light.
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