Navigating the healthcare system can be a daunting task, even if one has the time and energy to do so. This is to say nothing of the difficulties of doing so as a caregiver for an elderly person, with numerous other demands to juggle. Using a patient advocate may be a great idea that can save time, money, and frustration.

What Is a Patient Advocate?

A patient advocate is someone who knows the ins and outs of the healthcare system and can assist in determining how much should be paid for treatment, and even whether certain types of treatment are really necessary. A patient advocate helps in interpreting complex medical statements and diagnoses and can be invaluable to a layperson who is suddenly acting as the caregiver for an elderly loved one.

Patient advocates are often doctors, lawyers, and other educated professionals who for one reason or another have turned their energies towards assisting others in their journeys through the healthcare system. They are educated as to what to look for in medical billing and other paperwork and can help uncover errors in billing, duplicate charges, and other matters that an untrained eye could miss.

Because they know the healthcare industry, patient advocates are able to perform wide-ranging services. They may contact medical care providers on behalf of their clients, aggressively negotiating prices, and find healthcare providers that specialize in rare or difficult-to-diagnose diseases or conditions. Patient advocates are like a personal assistant for the business of managing a client's interactions with the entire healthcare industry.

In addition to their knowledge of medical procedures and billing practices, good patient advocates can help a client find other resources as well. For example, they may be able to help with the process of obtaining Social Security payments or direct people to further resources that may help provide the care an elderly person needs.

Where Can You Find a Patient Advocate?

The patient advocate field is relatively new. The first patient advocates emerged on the scene in 2009, so there is a high demand for finding established and qualified patient advocates. There are some specialty firms that focus on the area of patient advocacy; also, one's doctor may know of people practicing in the field. Some hospitals have a patient advocate office. Nurses sometimes serve as patient advocates.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that there are no official licenses or credentials required, so anyone can claim to be a patient advocate. Thoroughly vetting anyone claiming to be a patient advocate is important, as is asking for no less than three references from past clients.

Although it is not always necessary to have certification in an area in order to be competent, any patient advocate should have some experience. It helps if the advocate is--or was at one point--a medical professional. However, this is not always necessary, and some very good patient advocates come from other backgrounds such as the law, mediation, and others.

How Much Does a Patient Advocate Cost?

As with everything else in life, the cost of a patient advocate will vary from area to area and according to expertise level. Many patient advocates charge hourly rates beginning in the area of $100 per hour and running all the way up to nearly $500 an hour.

While it may seem prohibitively expensive to pay someone $100 (or more) an hour, a good patient advocate can help save thousands and thousands of dollars in medical bills. This is particularly true when the healthcare providers have made concessions for certain circumstances in the lives of their patients. A competent patient advocate will know about these conditions and go to bat for the patient and his or her loved ones, taking advantage of all the esoteric rules, regulations, and policies of healthcare which the ordinary person does not know.

Why Would You Use a Patient Advocate?

In addition to potentially saving a client thousands of dollars, a good patient advocate will help by contributing to peace of mind. Family members will know that they are obtaining the best treatment for an elderly loved one instead of just letting a doctor--or worse yet, an insurance company--dictate what treatments are and are not beneficial. In addition, caregivers will save time and energy from not having to manage providing care while winnowing through the healthcare system alone.

Patient advocates can be very helpful and are worth looking into. A patient advocate might be just the ticket to easier navigation of caregiving.

Sources

Martsolf, Grant, (July 2016). Innovative nursing care models and culture of health: Early evidence. Nursing Outlook, 64(4): 367-376.

Ferguson, Ronald. (March 8, 2016). Patient Advocacy in the Era of the Affordable Care Act. New England Medical Journal, 17(3).

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