Patient Advocates Help Patients Navigate Health Care Systems

Published In Health & Safety

Patient advocacy is an area of specialization in health care concerned with advocacy for patients, survivors and caregivers.

The patient advocate may be an individual or an organization. The terms patient advocate and patient advocacy can refer both to individual advocates providing services, and to organizations whose functions extend to individual patients. Some patient advocates work for the institutions that are directly responsible for the patient’s care. Others work independently.

The Patient Advocate Foundation describes the role of the patient advocate in this way: “The mission of PAF is to help one patient at a time by providing highly skilled case management service or financial aid to resolve problems related to their ability to access care and overcome financial hurdles during the most vulnerable times of illness.”

Who Are the Health Advocates?

Patient advocates come in many forms. Some are simply called advocates; others may be patient navigators, case managers, care coordinators, geriatric care managers, health coaches or elder care professionals. Many of these professionals, like case managers (ACMA) and geriatric care managers (ALCA ), have their own professional membership organizations. Some are guided by codes of practice and licensure rules and others are not.

What Do Advocates Do?

The kinds of services being provided by advocates grows. A 2023 article in HelpAdvisor  lists several services provided by a patient advocate. Following is a partial list:
  1.  Navigating Health Care Laws and regulations
  2.  Navigating the complexities of medical billing and health insurance issues/Filing appeals
  3. Financial planning for family medical expenses and payer assistance programs
  4. Explain treatment options recommended by physicians so patient understands the choices and procedures as well as their costs
  5. Addresses any mental health issues.
  6. Provide emotional support
( Check out John Hopkins for a listing of further roles of a patient advocate.)

Where Do Patient Advocates Work?

Patient advocates work in a variety of settings. Some of the most common places include:

  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation Centers
  • Health Maintenance Organizations
  • Non-Profit Agencies
  • Government Entities

Being a Patient Advocate

Most patient advocates come from traditional backgrounds like nursing, social work or education. Some have simply gained on-the-job experience helping a loved one navigate the system, and now they hope to expand that experience into a career helping others. However, with the growing demand, more and more options for education and training have become available. Some examples include:


This article was last updated in November 2023.

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