What is a Patient Advocate – Overview
Patient advocates assist patients and their families in moving through the complicated healthcare system. For instance, patient advocates are responsible for communicating with doctors, finding legal advice, working with insurance companies, and arranging tests and diagnostic screenings.
Patient advocates help patients in many aspects of their medical care and ensure that the process is smooth and convenient.
What is the role of a Patient Advocate?
A patient advocate is known by many other names, such as:
- Care manager
- Health advocate
- Patient navigator
- Case manager
- Patient Liaison
- Medical advocate
- Patient representative
- Consumer advocate
Before applying for a job as a patient advocate, it is important to check with the organization posting the job to ensure that it is the same.
A patient advocate has several different types of duties and responsibilities to fulfill in a healthcare organization. It is a rewarding career and provides the tools required to ensure patients receive optimal care from diagnosis to treatment, recovery and even follow-up visits.
As a patient advocate, you will be working with different types of patients who need different types of medical care. Patient advocates commonly assist patients with chronic illnesses, life-threatening conditions and multiple illnesses.
As a patient advocate, some of the most common responsibilities you will handle:
- Helping patients find legal and financial guidance
- Arranging medical appointments and finding second opinions
- Negotiating medical bills
- Helping patients find support groups and other forms of social support
- Resolving disputes between patients and their insurance providers
- Reviewing medical bills for accuracy
- Resolving conflicts between patients and their care providers
- Collecting information on specific illnesses and conditions
- Communicating with doctors, nurses, therapists, specialists and other healthcare providers
- Representing patients to their insurance carrier
- Explaining technical details to patients, such as medical bills and even diagnosis results
- Keeping notes on everything that happens during a medical visit
- Helping patients understand and find best-suited medical treatment and care options
- Making sure patient’s needs and wishes are fulfilled when they can’t speak for themselves
- Identifying areas where medical care can improve
- Helping patients fill out different types of applications and forms
- Supporting patient’s rights
- Explaining medical chart readings, bills, and documents to patients
Regardless of your specific responsibilities, the most important aspect of working as a patient advocate is to answer their queries and resolve their doubts. The patient may seek basic medical information or simply need reassurance.
Where Do Patient Advocates Work?
Patient advocates are needed in different types of settings and positions within a healthcare organization, right from clinics and hospitals to small businesses. As healthcare systems grow complicated day by day and the American population ages, patient advocates are increasingly in demand at the following organizations:
- Hospitals – A hospital usually hires patient advocates to help patients during the hospital stay, all the way to discharge.
- Nursing Homes – Many senior living homes, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities also hire patient advocates.
- Insurance Companies – Insurance companies also hire patient advocates to help their patient-consumers understand their insurance policies and coordinate for claims.
- Health Care Advocacy Groups (nonprofits) – Some nonprofit organizations that provide patient advocacy services also hire patient advocates as volunteers or full-time employees.
- Government Agencies – Some governmental agencies also hire patient advocates at the state and federal levels. This includes government-run healthcare programs, such as Medicaid and Medicare.
How to Become a Patient Advocate?
There is no specific path to follow to become a patient advocate. Basically, every employer has their own set of criteria for educational requirements, while some may offer training to new hires. Other employers may require you to have an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, or a certain amount of job experience in nursing and medical billing, for example.
You can learn more about this with online training options and improve your chances of successfully working as a patient advocate with national certification.
What Are the Educational Requirements to Become a Patient Advocate?
The education required to become a patient advocate is usually dependent on the particular organization hiring you. Some employers are okay if you have a high school diploma, while others may want you to have a higher degree, such as a bachelor’s degree.
If you are about to start college to become a patient advocate, it is highly advisable to choose a healthcare field as your major. Besides this, you can also choose social work, counseling, law and finance, and even a nursing degree to become a successful patient advocate.
Usually, most people work as patient advocates for a second career, especially if they already work in the healthcare industry. This may include certified nurses, medical billers, social workers, lawyers, and customer service representatives. In addition, you may also find employers who prefer candidates with relevant background experience.
Though no specific degree is required to become a patient advocate, some colleges and universities offer certifications and programs to help you prepare for the field. For instance, you may choose to study ethics, finance, health care law, health care system, communication, and other related topics.
Additionally, you can also earn a Board Certified Patient Advocate (BCPA) credential from the Patient Advocate Certification Board (PACB). This certification is open to people from varied backgrounds related to patient advocacy, from hospital volunteers to even physicians. The eligibility criteria also vary and are judged by the specific case.
To take this exam, you must first apply and provide proof of identification. This certification helps patient advocates to find more job opportunities.
What Are the Skills Needed to Be a Patient Advocate?
To be a successful and effective patient advocate, a candidate should have certain human and social skills, especially the ability to listen and communicate effectively. Besides this, the candidate should also be able to observe the patient’s body language and other non-verbal cues, especially if the patient cannot communicate clearly. Verbal and written communication skills are extremely important to have if you plan to work as a patient advocate.
Patient advocates are tasked to be liaisons between patients and healthcare providers and insurance companies. The duties of a patient advocate include communicating everything clearly to the patients and assisting them in any way possible, right from navigating the treatment process to liaising with their insurance providers. Though no specific education requirement is needed, you must have excellent communication skills and inborn empathy to become a successful patient advocate.