What Is a Patient Advocate? - Definition & Training

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  • 0:00 Challenges in Healthcare
  • 0:57 The Role of the…
  • 2:32 Required Training
  • 4:12 Work Environments
  • 5:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Utterback

Susan is a RN who has a master's degree in instructional technology with a corporate training focus. She has taught continuing education programs for healthcare providers.

Patient advocates fill a role in healthcare that has become progressively more important as the industry grows more complex. In this lesson, you will learn what a patient advocate does, what type of training is needed, and where patient advocates work.

Challenges in Healthcare

Have you or a loved one ever been treated for a serious illness or injury? If you have, you may have some experience in navigating the murky waters of the healthcare industry.

It's complicated, even in the best of cases. Communication with medical professionals can be tough, especially in hospital settings when shift changes can mean interactions with new doctors and nurses every day. If there are any questions regarding treatment plans, making the decision that is best for the patient can be stressful and difficult for individuals without a medical background. And after all is said and done, dealing with the bills can be near impossible, even with insurance!

Unfortunately, as the industry gets more complicated, more and more people are having a hard time coping with all the bureaucracy. And so, in recent years, the role of the patient advocate has become more and more popular, giving patients an option in their searches for help in a time of need.

The Role of the Patient Advocate

A patient advocate is a trained professional who serves as a go-between for patients and their family members and representatives of the healthcare industry. They can go by any number of titles, including health advocate, patient navigator, care coordinator, ombudsman, patient relations representative, customer service representative, patient liaison, consumer advocate or even crisis resolution representative.

Patient advocates can work to help patients and their families by providing a variety of services, depending on the patient's needs and the advocate's area of expertise. They may help them to secure health care, manage insurance, or make treatment plan decisions.

Services offered by advocates may include medical guidance. Advocates may review diagnoses, treatment options, tests, medications, and medical records and assist with decision making. Advocates might offer insurance or financial guidance. Specifically, they may assist with selecting appropriate insurance, navigating insurance rules, filing and managing insurance claims, and reviewing medical bills. They might offer legal or ethical advocacy. Advocates can provide guidance with matters such as living wills, advanced directives, disability or worker's compensation, or malpractice. Additionally, they might help with elder care. Some patient advocates focus on the care of the elderly. They can locate services to assist with staying independent, find assisted living or nursing home care, or help individuals navigate Medicare.

Required Training

Patient advocacy has always been an important function in healthcare, performed as part of the job by physicians, nurses, social workers, and care managers, among others. However, advocacy is only a small part of these individuals' jobs and often requires more time than is available to these caregivers.

The professional patient advocate role is relatively new and helps to fill the gap in advocacy care. Currently, there are no specific standards or requirements for patient advocates, but most have a background in healthcare or healthcare-related industries, such as insurance. Most advocates have professional experience as nurses, physicians, social workers, or care managers.

There are several private organizations that offer training and certifications for patient advocates, but none of the programs are recognized as either a national or international credential. In addition, some universities have begun to offer patient advocacy certificate programs.

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