What Does a Patient Advocate Do?

That’s a good question — what does a patient advocate do? And there are a handful of answers, depending on the kind of help you need.

Some advocates help you with insurance claims, or review your hospital bills, then negotiate those that are wrong. Others might sit with you at home while you convalesce, or help you understand a difficult diagnosis and an extended list of treatment options. In fact, there’s a long list of services patients or health advocates might provide.

Most of these are simple to understand, because this kind of help has actually been around for awhile. The type of patient advocacy that seems most confusing – but can have the biggest impact on your positive medical outcomes – are medical / navigational advocates.

These advocates will sit with you in the doctor’s office and ask questions, or will help you make a difficult medical decision, or will sit at your bedside to monitor your hospital care, to be sure you get the right drugs, or don’t acquire an infection.

Here’s a metaphor to help you better understand why this is important: Fifty years ago, if you wanted to buy a house, you found someone willing to sell, and the two of you worked out all the details. If you needed a mortgage, you got it from a bank or a savings & loan. If you needed a lawyer to draw up the deed, then you hired one.

But over the years, particularly as credit problems started to arise and the legal requirements got tougher, we began to see real estate brokers establish an expertise as the go-between – between the seller and the buyer. These brokers have a much larger bank of knowledge than someone who only buys or sells a home two or three times in a lifetime. They understand the process, know home values, mortgage options, negotiation, legal requirements – they know far more about everything related to the transaction of buying or selling a home than most of us do. Today, very few home transactions take place without a real estate broker to orchestrate them.

Unfortunately, the healthcare system (no matter what country you live in, or what political party is in office) has become so tenuous that patients really do need a go-between to help them navigate. If you are in the US, you have an additional burden dealing with health insurers. Doctors can’t do it alone anymore, nor can nurses. Without that expert to step in and shepherd us, we patients may succumb not to our disease or condition, but to the problems in the system that is intended to help us.

There is excellent care available! But it takes these experts — these professional private patient advocates — to find it and make sure we patients access it.

Whether you need help navigating the maze of healthcare — or help with your medical bills, insurance claims, home health, eldercare, a midwife or doula – or even legal help – you can find it at AdvoConnection.

Update: December 2017

Are you considering becoming a patient advocate? You might be interested in:
So You Want to Be a Patient Advocate? Choosing a Career in Health or Patient Advocacy

Find even more resources for health and patient advocates here.

7 thoughts on “What Does a Patient Advocate Do?”

  1. I am new to being a patient advocate. I became one when various family members needed someone to intervene with hospital staff after many tests, confusion with a growing number of doctors, etc. My most recent case was with my daughter. She was hospitalized for kidney stone removal. All went well, until one of her lungs collapsed 2 days after surgery. We were lucky to have her in a teaching hopspital, but she ended up with 6 teams of doctors, comprised of residents, interns, attending physicians on each team. It was found that our daughter had yeast in her left lung. This is NOT good. Some groups of doctors were more grim than others.
    I shudder to think what may have happened had I not stayed with our 25 year old daughter. She wasn’t very experienced with being a patient. Now she is recovering at home on I.V. meds. Hopefully her PIC line will be removed in 2 weeks. I am a teacher by profession. I have also been a medical billing clerk and an insurance claims processer. I have helped friends and colleagues to sort through much medical info. I have been the extra ear with close friends at the doctor’s office, for exams and surgical consultations. This summer I plan to launch myself as a Patient Advocate for hire. I am also interested in some of the educational programs available. How does one insure themselves for this type of profession?

  2. Donna,

    I can only imagine how frustrating your experience with your family members, but even more so, how frightening your daughter’s experience was.And you are absolutely right – had you not been there, the outcome might not have been the (eventual) positive one it was.

    People with horror stories like yours, who have developed a knowledge of the system and the expertise to help others, but who haven’t necessarily had a healthcare background, are choosing to become patient advocates – in large numbers. That’s precisely why we started AdvoConnection – to help you with the legal, insurance, marketing and other business-related needs for getting started, plus networking and topical conversations as this new career continues to evolve into a well-respected profession.

    Please take a look at an AdvoConnection PACE membership (patient advocacy career exploration) which can help you launch your services this summer.

    As for educational programs, try http://www.HealthAdvocatePrograms.com — it lists every program we know of with some student reviews, too.

    Best of luck to you, Donna.

    Trisha Torrey

    1. Trisha,
      Thanks so much for your kind and informative comments. This information and feedback have been very helpful. I have a better idea on how to proceed.

  3. Hi Trisha,

    Is there such a thing as a patient advocate in the veterinary field? I would love to do that and I believe there is need, but I have no idea if it exists or how to get into it. Any suggestions?

  4. Hi Jacque,

    I don’t know of any patient advocates in the veterinary field, but an afternoon of googling might bear some fruit of information.

    Getting into it would require the same approach as getting into any advocacy business. It’s just that your clients wouldn’t exactly interact with you in quite the same ways, 🙂

    Keep us posted if you decide to become a veterinary advocate!


  5. I like that you talked about how an advocate will also make sure that you are getting the right medications for your condition. I have been having some medical problems and I’m not sure my interests are being fully met. I can see how it would be nice to find a medical advocate because they might be able to help me get medical services I need.

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