What is a Health Advocate?
Helpful Advice and Guidance
A health advocate is a family member, friend, trusted coworker, or a hired professional who can ask questions, write down information, and speak up for you so you can better understand your illness and get the care and resources you need - giving you a peace of mind so you can focus on your recovery.
When you or your loved one becomes ill or injured, you face a fragmented, uncoordinated array of services. Tasks such as finding a new primary care doctor or specialist, staying safe while in the hospital, or sorting out medical bills and insurance claims now require highly specialized knowledge. You also need to know your rights as a patient.
R. Ruth Linden, PhD. of Tree of Life Health Advocates, addresses some issues that a patient advocate or health advocate can help with:
- Helping find a primary care doctor who is accepting new patients.
- Helping make decisions regarding elective surgery.
- Helping someone who has received a devastating diagnosis and is feeling overwhelmed and terrified.
- Helping someone with stage-four cancer who has exhausted all treatment options.
- Helping someone who is worried as to when it is time to bring in hospice.
Health advocates have a wide variety of backgrounds. Some are physicians or hold PhDs, others are registered nurses or social workers. Many of them are people who have gone through the system to help family members. There are certification programs, and many advocates have earned the Board Certifications in Patient Advocacy, or BCPA, designation. Most health advocates offer an initial, free 10 to 30 minute consultations. The key is to find the right person to help you, and someone that you are comfortable working with. Some helpful questions to ask while looking for a health advocate include:
- What is your background and training?
- How long have you been in practice as a health advocate?
- Have you handled cases similar to mine?
- What are your fees?
- What steps are involved in your onboarding process?
- How will you communicate with my family and health care team?
- Do you carry errors and omissions insurance?
- Can you provide me with references?
- Are you on call in an emergency?
- Do you have time to handle my case?
SeniorsMatter.com provides a great resource in their article Hiring a Patient Advocate - What They Do, Where To Find One, and What They Cost. In addition to potentially saving a client thousands of dollars, a good patient advocate will help by contributing to peace of mind. Family members will know that they are obtaining the best treatment for an elderly loved one instead of just letting a doctor--or worse yet, an insurance company--dictate what treatments are and are not beneficial. In addition, caregivers will save time and energy from not having to manage providing care while winnowing through the healthcare system alone.
Health advocates can be very helpful and are worth looking into. A patient advocate might be just the ticket to easier navigation of caregiving.