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November 21, 2018

The Benefits of a Patient Advocate & Why You Should Have One


If you’ve recently been ill or hospitalized, had surgery or are otherwise not feeling your best, it can be especially challenging to advocate for yourself. That’s true when you have concerns about treatments you’ve been receiving or a medication that’s been prescribed. It can be challenging to decipher today’s medical lingo, and it’s easy to receive a medical bill that you don’t understand or don’t believe you owe.

And, that’s where a patient advocate can come in.

As an expert quoted at NextAvenue.org points out, everyone really needs a patient advocate, no matter their age. The health system doesn’t work perfectly, the article shares, and it’s important to have someone to advocate for you to get the proper care.

The concept of patient advocates is not new in the United States, with its roots going back at least as far as 1893, when Lillian Wald and a group of nurses advocated for immigrants living on the lower east side of New York City. Other early advocates included:

  • American Society for Control of Cancer, formed in 1913, now the American Cancer Society
  • National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, now the March of Dimes
  • Margaret Sanger, who began working with immigrant women in 1910

And, as the healthcare system in our country becomes increasingly more complex, the need for patient advocates has only continued to grow. So, when you need help, the real question is how to find the right advocate for your needs.

Finding the Right Patient Advocate

There are numerous strategies to help you find the right one. Who among your friends and family would make good healthcare advocates? Someone from your place of worship?

If someone from your personal circle agrees to advocate for you, here are two recommended first steps for him or her to take:

  • educate yourself on any diagnoses given by reading material on them and by asking medical professionals questions
  • organize doctor visit information, along with treatments, test results and medications; this is especially important if your loved one is seeing multiple doctors

You can also investigate hospital patient advocates, if you’ve recently been hospitalized. Plus, there is also a nonprofit that helps the patient and family members with advocacy issues. It’s called, appropriately enough, the Patient Advocate Foundation.

The New York Times offers more information about choosing the right healthcare advocates and so does John Hopkins Medicine. The right advocate:

  • knows you well (or gets to know you)
  • is “calm, organized, assertive and comfortable asking questions”
  • can clearly articulate what kind of help you need and shares concerns
  • has access to your medical history details (you’ll need to share them) and can provide them, as needed
  • takes good notes during conversations with medical professionals
  • is someone you “respect and trust: Someone who’s discreet and cares for you”

From the Perspective of a Patient Advocate

Some professionals are now offering advocacy services for a fee. NPR.org provides an article that shares what advocacy is like from the perspective of people who offer those services. Here are insights gleaned from that article:

  • Communication is key, especially when there are multiple doctors involved
  • If you don’t have a capable person in your personal circle that can and will advocate for you—and if you can afford to pay for these services—there are examples in the article of different people you can pay to be your advocate.

If you choose to use a professional advocate, ask for references, as you would with any other service provider, and select one who makes you feel comfortable and reassured.

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