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: “Patient Services provide patients with arbitration, mediation and negotiation to settle issues with access to care, medical debt, and job retention related to their 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 continues to grow. The Advo Connection Directory offers an excellent list of services. A partial list is offered here. See the Advo Connection website for a more detailed description of programs and services.
- Medical / Navigational Assistance and Case Management
- Medical Billing / Health Insurance / Medicare / Payer Assistance
- Home Health and Eldercare Services
- End of Life Planning Services
- Mediation Assistance for Family Health Matters
- Legal or Fiduciary Assistance (Medical / Healthcare Related)
- Prevention Services
Where Do Patient Advocates Work?
Patient advocates work in a variety of settings. Some of the most common places include:
- 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:
- Patient Advocacy Certificate Program, UCLA Extension
- Hospital Patient Advocate Program, Cleveland State University
- Certificate Program in Health Advocacy, Sarah Lawrence College
- Patient Safety Leadership, University of Illinois at Chicago
- Legal and Financial Aspects of Advocacy, The University of Wisconsin Medical
The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates has developed a website with an excellent overview of educational opportunities in the field.