Certified Patient or Health Advocate? Here we Go Again

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womancertificateDo you consider yourself a Certified Patient Advocate or Certified Health Advocate?

I hate to burst bubbles here, but no matter who you are, or what courses or programs you have taken, no matter who or what handed you a certificate at the end, you are not a certified advocate.

Why? Because there is no such thing as certification for patient advocates or health advocates. Period.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for any length of time have heard this tune – many times – before. Some of you, realizing that you may be doing yourselves and the profession harm by calling yourselves certified advocates, have deleted that designation from your business cards or your email signatures. I applaud you. Truthfully, you don’t have to read this post any further.

But others, whether they do so innocently not understanding the distinction, or willfully because no one is going to tell THEM what to do, are actually being deceptive to their clients, and laying the groundwork for problems for themselves. Potentially BIG problems.

I know how this whole “certification” thing gets started.

Several of the educational programs for private patient advocates issue a certificate when a student has completed their program. So some of their graduates think that makes them “certified.” To an extent they are – but only by that program. Graduates should be proud and pleased they have completed their coursework, and yes, they should share that information with their clients and potential clients (see below*.) But no – completion of any existing program does not make them certified patient or health advocates.

Here’s why:

The definition of “certification,” in particular the way it is used in a healthcare setting, requires wide agreement on a tested set of skills and criteria that are recognized as important by those people who will hire advocates (e.g. sick people or caregivers), plus all the organizations that bestow such a certificate, as being the right skills and criteria to do the work successfully.

There is NO such agreement anywhere in the US or Canada or anywhere else in the world I know of. There is a group that’s working on the criteria, but they have just begun that work and no decisions have yet been made.  

Therefore, with no universally recognized set of standards or criteria, then it is impossible for any existing program to call itself a “certification program.”

That’s not to say that the existing programs aren’t worthwhile, or that if you completed one, you didn’t learn a great deal, or that it didn’t benefit you and your future clients. Most programs are excellent, and there’s little doubt your time and efforts were worthwhile. But if the ability to call yourself a “certified advocate” was the sole reason you paid for and took the courses, then you didn’t get what you paid for.

So why do I raise this point – again?  Because it was recently brought to my attention – again – by an advocate that understands the distinctions and realizes their importance. This particular advocate, who has been in successful practice for a number of years, was given a business card from a newer advocate who is just getting started, has just completed one of the programs mentioned above, and had put “CHA” – for Certified Health Advocate – on a business card. The question was, “How could this new advocate think about adding a bogus credential to a business card?”

I don’t think anyone intended to fool anyone. I think it’s just naïveté. I’m guessing this new advocate hasn’t realized this is an issue and may have even been told by the program to go ahead and use those initials. So, since it has been more than a year since the last time I addressed the question, it seemed a good time to bring it up again.

So here are some DOs and DON’Ts as they relate to patient or health advocates and certification:

DO:

DON’T:

  • Claim you are a certified health advocate or patient advocate. If someone were to look into your claim, it would potentially embarrass you.  It could also jeopardize your insurance.

I suspect, and welcome, any discussion of this point below. I also promise to keep you updated should the status of advocacy certification change.

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Agree? Disagree?

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Comments

  1. Kent De Spain  October 1, 2013

    Trisha,

    Thank you for again stepping forward to clarify this issue. As the Chair of one of the programs that offer a Certificate (not certification) in Healthcare Advocacy/Patient Navigation I feel it is my responsibility to have that conversation with every prospective student. They need to know that they will get a solid foundation in the knowledge and skills required by the field, but we cannot guarantee what certification will look like or when it might be implemented. Every major area of healthcare has worked through these same issue. As the new kid on the block, it is now our turn.

    For any prospective Healthcare Advocacy students out there: I don’t know of any programs encouraging their students to make any premature claims of certification, but there are new programs every year. Make sure to be a smart shopper for your education, and lack of clarity about certification should be a warning sign to look more closely.

    Kent De Spain
    Chair, Certificate Program in Healthcare Consumer Advocacy/Patient Navigation
    Antioch University Midwest

    reply

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