A Patient Advocate is a professional who provides services to patients and those supporting them who are navigating the complex healthcare continuum. Advocates work directly with clients (or with their legal representatives) to ensure they have a voice in their care and information to promote informed decision making.
The Patient Advocate Certification Board (PACB) is the national body that has developed a credential for the profession of patient advocacy. The first examination was given in March, 2018. (Click here to see the press release from PACB.) Sharon passed the examination and is therefore a Board-Certified Patient Advocate. Patient Advocates may have a variety of educations and backgrounds—no specific education or degrees are currently required for certification. Certification is not required to practice but connotes a mastery of the body of knowledge considered to be pertinent.
The role of an advocate is informational, not medical. Advocates are committed to helping clients and their families make informed choices and access resources. The role of a patient advocate is further detailed in PACB’s Competencies and Best Practices.
Taken together, all of this information tells us what a patient advocate does:
A time of illness is a stressful time for patients as well as for their families. The best-laid plans can go awry, judgment is impaired, and, put simply, you are not at your best when you are sick. Patients need someone who can look out for their best interests and help navigate the confusing healthcare system—in other words, an advocate. This may be a family member, close friend or professional advocate.
Advocates employed by hospitals and insurance companies have an allegiance to their employers and their policies, not primarily to the patient. If there is a conflict of interest they will necessarily conform to the restrictions imposed by their employers. A private Patient Advocate’s only loyalty is to their client and their only interest is in achieving the best outcome for that client, without restrictions imposed by for-profit healthcare organizations.
In my experience, doctors and medical care teams welcome meeting with and involving Patient Advocates as part of their patients’ care. An Advocate can help prepare clients for appointments so that everyone’s time is used most effectively, and better discussions ensue. An Advocate can also work with a client after the appointment to gather any information desired and help assure instructions are followed. Appointments with doctors become more productive and streamlined. While some physicians may not be familiar with working with a private Patient Advocate, I am happy to answer any questions they may have about my role and services that I provide.
Bellwether offers an up to 45-minute free initial consultation to discuss your current medical situation, to understand what you are struggling with or need help accomplishing, and to determine what goals you are looking to achieve. Once we have summarized all the pertinent information, a scope of services will be drafted which outlines and describes what services would be beneficial, what the process would be, as well as the approximate time commitment to complete and execute the described tasks. A detailed quote will be included within the agreement for your review. The scope of services agreement may be refined as needed until an appropriate agreement is reached.
No, it does not; neither Medicare nor private insurance currently covers the services of a Patient Advocate.
No, the role of a Patient Advocate is informational only. The first Ethical Standard of PACB is very clear that a patient advocate “shall not recommend specific treatment choices, provide clinical opinions, or perform medical care of any type, even if they possess clinical credentials.”