Patient advocacy has emerged as an important part of the healthcare system in the past ten to fifteen years. Professional patient advocates are healthcare, social services and sometimes legal professionals who help patients to navigate complex systems of healthcare, insurance companies and employers. Dr. Carolyn Clancy, former director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) wrote about the benefits of patient advocates for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “As a doctor and a patient, I’ve seen how beneficial it is to have another set of eyes and ears in the exam room,” she said. This is the first of many benefits of patient advocates.
Understanding and Explaining Medical Communications
Physicians and other healthcare professionals work hard on their communication skills, but when patients hear a serious diagnosis such as cancer, it’s difficult for them to understand and absorb everything health professionals are instructing them to do or trying to explain. Patient advocates serve as “eyes and ears” in the exam room. They can help translate provider questions to the patient, and can provide answers in return. They are also prepared to ask questions about next steps in treatment or care, and can explain tests, treatments and self-care to patients in patient-friendly, non-threatening terms.
The practical logistics benefits of patient advocacy are an essential service for many patients, especially in cancer care and other serious conditions which require many different tests, treatment protocols, and frequent changes in prescriptions. The patient advocate helps patients and families by scheduling appointments, keeping a calendar, monitoring treatment and tests, and making transportation arrangements. When complex paperwork is required to be submitted for insurance companies or reimbursement, the patient advocate is there to provide this necessary support. They also assist in speaking to insurance representatives, and advocate with hospitals and clinics to clarify bills or payments.
Employment and Insurance Advocacy
The diagnosis of a serious illness that will prevent you from returning to work can sometimes mean confusion or major problems that a patient advocate can help navigate. Sometimes human resources departments are overwhelmed, or you may work for a smaller company where there is no human resources department. Patient advocates can help to communicate with your employer about your health condition, anticipated return to work, or needs if you are able to return to work part-time. When insurance is impacted by your employment circumstances, the patient advocate can also assist.
Organizing and Monitoring Medications and Treatment
Taking dozens of pills a day or being required to take certain medications at certain times is easy to forget. If your illness has also placed limitations on your daily living skills, you will require help with making sure you are taking prescribed medication. Patient advocates also help to arrange and facilitate complex treatment and therapy regimens.
Legal and Family Assistance
Legal matters related to your illness, diagnosis and your own family and well-being are critical if you have received a serious diagnosis. Few patients are in a condition to arrange a medical power of attorney or make complex decisions about long-term legal matters or finances without a patient, helpful hand. Patient advocates can assist with legal documents, arrange meetings with attorneys, and explain necessary legal steps.
With healthcare becoming more complex by the day, from financial concerns to different types of treatment options, prescriptions and multiple clinics, advocates can be essential in improving health outcomes. A patient advocate can be a family member, friend or professional as long as they are providing assistance to patients with serious or complex medical conditions.