Patient Advocacy: A Growing Field For Patients To Benefit From

What/Who Is A Patient Advocate?

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A patient advocate is someone who helps patients to navigate the complex maze that is the healthcare system.

It's important to consider that medicine is hopefully moving in the direction of taking the whole person into account.   This means providing additional support services, such as a patient advocate, to be a resource and a voice for patients.

Where Patient Advocates Work

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Patient advocates work in a variety of settings, the most common being in hospitals.   In the hospital setting, patient advocates are employed by the hospital and their services are provided at no additional cost.

Hospitals vary what they call patient advocates, so they can employee patient advocates in a patient advocacy office.   In some places, patient advocates are also known as patient representatives or patient navigators.   Whatever the name, these are basically the same thing for our purposes (although technically some positions are more customer service based than others).

You can gain access to a patient advocate at the hospital where you receive care simply by requesting to speak to an advocate.   One important thing to note, however, is that not all doctors take kindly to patients calling in the advocate.   If you end up in a situation like that, the patient advocate is there to help you receive the best quality of care possible, even if that means finding a new doctor.

There are also non-profit patient advocates and for-profit patient advocates.   Some disease-specific organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, have patient advocates on staff to help patients in that specific disease group.

I would say, however, that after hospitals, the fastest growing population of patient advocates work independently.   These are people that you would seek out for yourself who would be outside of any institutional affiliation, as the other three have been related to institutions.   Typically, you would have to pay this person on your own, probably without being able to cover any of the expense with insurance.

How Patients Can Benefit From A Patient Advocate?

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When it comes to patient advocacy, patients can benefit in two ways.   First, patients can benefit directly by utilizing a patient advocate in their own care.   Second, patients can also harness their personal experiences and become patient advocates themselves.

Education and Training

Many ePatients consider themselves to be patient advocates.   It's not to say that you can't be a patient advocate only having the experience of advocating for yourself.   However, there are degree programs out there, such as the Health Advocacy Master's Program at Sarah Lawrence College, which I will be completing in May. There are some certificate programs, but the Sarah Lawrence Master's Program is the longest running program in the country.

Additional education isn't for everyone, though, and there are online webinars on the subject, if you are interested.  Here are some helpful links in this regard:

The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates

National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants

Patient Advocate Foundation

Professional Patient Advocate Institute

The healthcare environment we live in is complicated.   And being a patient with a chronic illness can be exhausting.   That's what patient advocates are there for.   Don't ever feel ashamed of asking for help.   Even though I'm a patient advocate employed in a hospital, I have had to utilize a patient advocate to help guide me through my own care when I have hit snags that I couldn't untangle myself.   It can be frustrating when it feels like the medical system is trying to stand in the way of your health, and a patient advocate is there to make sure that you get the care that you need.

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