With intervention and assistance, patient advocates, or health advocates, can have a direct effect on the quality and cost of a patient’s health care and treatment. This can include doctors, insurance companies, employers, lawyers and numerous other people and institutions in the public and private sectors.
A patient advocate works on behalf of a patient to manage and resolve issues about health care and medical charges. This can include supporting and promoting patients’ rights in general, even if it means lobbying for legislative and policy reform in the health care field.
Not many accredited colleges offer a patient advocacy degree, but virtually any degree program in health care, medical, public health or social work degree, whether an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or doctorate, can serve as a foundation for and facilitate a career in patient advocacy.
Patients can feel overwhelmed by the combination of their illness and the complex health care bureaucracy of hospitals, insurance companies and managed care programs. The patient advocate helps patients and their families navigate the complexities of the modern health care system to ensure medical and health needs are met. They act on behalf of patients to mediate conflicts with health care providers.
The patient advocate serves as a representative of the patient when responding to larger health care institutions and providers. They counsel and inform clients about insurance rights and patient empowerment, and intervene with HMOs, Medicare and other health providers as necessary.
In this capacity, a thorough knowledge of the laws, policies and practices of managed health care programs and institutions is essential. The patient advocate must stay updated on laws and policies and treatment options.
Some of the areas in which a patient advocate might promote include the following:
Figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that earnings of workers in advocacy, grantmaking and civic organizations averaged about $14.78 an hour in 2004, slightly lower than the average of $15.67 per hour for all workers in private industry. This is due in part to an abundance of entry-level and part-time jobs in the organizations that contain advocacy positions.
Most patient advocate positions are sponsored by nonprofit or not-for-profit organizations such as Patient Advocate Network, Patients Are Powerful, the National Patient Advocate Foundation and the Patient Advocacy Coalition. Earnings for patient advocates can vary widely based on such factors as their geographical location and whether the patient advocate is working in a salaried, part-time or voluntary position.