Patient advocates and navigators are my heroes.
As such, I am thrilled to announce the first Private Professional Patient Advocates Week (planned to be an annual event) – a week of recognizing the talents and contributions of the several hundred private patient advocates across the US and Canada.
“Thrilled” may actually not be strong enough.
Over the past couple of years, I have had the privilege of meeting dozens of private advocates – people who are dedicating to smoothing the difficult path through the healthcare system. They lead their charges to improved health, they protect them from medical errors and infections, they help their patients learn and understand more about their diagnoses and treatment options, they explain pros and cons to help patients make choices, they juggle appointments among providers and review medications to be sure conflicts aren’t creating problems when the intent was the opposite. Then they save them money or at least make sure it’s being spent wisely.
And that all happens before lunchtime.
It seems like a week isn’t enough time to provide due honor. Patient advocates and navigators devote their lives to improving the lives of others. There is no more noble calling.
As we prepare for Private Professional Patient Advocates Week next week, I’ve been asked by a handful of people what the difference is between a private patient advocate and any other health advocate.
It’s an important question, and the answer is actually quite simple.
The difference between a private patient advocate or navigator, and those found in hospitals, through insurance companies, or other places, is what I call The Advocate’s Allegiance Factor. It’s based on who is producing the paycheck.
Private patient advocates are paid directly by the patient or the patient’s caregiver and have only one allegiance – to the patient. The patient’s needs, whether they be medical, navigational, financial or locational – are the prime concern of the patient advocate. Period.
One of our AdvoConnection members, Elisabeth Russell, is featured in the March issue of MORE Magazine. The story of her journey toward becoming a patient navigator is worth reading. I dare you not to choke up when you read about her daughter’s diagnosis and treatment results. A true blessing – and very well written. (Thank you MORE Magazine!)
But there were some real mistakes in the sidebar information – and they need to be pointed out. Potential patient advocates and navigators can get the wrong picture from what’s there. At this point in our growth as a career, it’s important these facts be set straight.
I’ve wrestled with this question more than once. It’s the question raised on occasion by those who talk about universal healthcare, and a for-profit healthcare system. It’s a question asked by those who are concerned that not everyone in the United States has access to healthcare. It’s asked by almost anyone who asks me what I do for a living.
The question is, “Doesn’t providing private patient advocacy services only to those who can afford them, just create one more division between the “haves” and the “have nots?”
Lots of soul searching, and more than a few conversations have produced the definitive answer to that question. The answer is:
Several questions have come my way recently about what kinds of job opportunities might exist for patient advocates. I refer people to an article I’ve written elsewhere, but the real answer is – to be a true advocate, you must analyze who is paying for your services, and what your responsibility will be to them.
Finding an Employer
In 2011, most of the job possibilities for patient advocates are found either with hospitals or insurance companies. Hospitals have, for a long time, employed patient advocates, sometimes called patient representatives, who are tasked with helping patients. And word comes from an AdvoConnection member, through our Forum, that beginning in 2014 with healthcare reform, insurance companies will be required to have patient navigators on their staffs if they want to participate in insurance exchanges. Some have already begun to hire advocates.
But here’s the problem with those jobs.