When choosing a patient advocate, consider the following important points:
The most common patient advocate is a family member or friend. These loved ones may be willing to help, but often need advice on how to be most useful to you.
One type of patient advocate is a paid professional. Hospitals may have professional patient advocates, who may also be called patient navigators. Some hospitals use social workers, nurses or chaplains to advocate for patients. These professionals know the system and may be able to help you cut through red tape. When patients enter the hospital, the hospital is required to give each patient a copy of the Patient Bill of Rights. This usually provides the contact information for a patient advocate. Professional patient advocates can provide patients information about their disease, access to care and getting into clinical trials. They work with other members of the care team to coordinate the patient’s care.
A professional navigator can help identify challenges to care, identify possible solutions with patients and their families, identify financial assistance and help patients identify important questions to ask their doctors. Some patient navigators work for community-based organizations, or work independently and are hired on a freelance basis directly by patients. Independent patient advocates may focus on one particular disease area, such as cancer. Others focus on billing and health insurance claims. They may help to coordinate care among several providers, accompany patients to medical appointments or sit with them in the hospital.
Two resources for finding patient advocates are the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy, which requires members to sign a code of ethics, and the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, which requires participants to have professional liability insurance.
Questions you may want to ask a patient advocate you are considering hiring include:
Nurse navigators are often employed by hospital systems and cancer clinics. These professional nurses help patients through the care system, from diagnosis through treatment and recovery. A nurse navigator assigned to you by a hospital or clinic may not be able to help coordinate care with doctors outside that system, however.
For-profit patient advocates are part of a health care company that usually contracts with employers, usually at no cost to the patient. These advocates may be part of your workplace employee assistance program that can help with health care issues. The services vary and are often provided over the phone. Some organizations have care managers that can meet with patients and their health care providers.
When choosing an advocate, first decide what you want the person to help you with, and what you want to handle yourself. Common ways that an advocate can help you is by:
Before you engage an advocate, decide how involved you want this person to be in your treatment decisions, and how much you are willing to let them know about your condition. Talk to your doctor and health care team and let them know this person will be your advocate, and how you want them involved. Also let the rest of your family know the role you have chosen for your advocate.
There are a number of forms that patients and their advocates should have on file, including:
Advance directives include: