Stanford University

Make a Difference as a Patient Advocate

The role of “patient advocate” is new and evolving. As the importance of patients’ rights gains momentum, a group of healthcare professionals has banded together to stand up for the best interests of their patients. Because patient advocates are a new career path, many healthcare professionals declare themselves “patient advocates” after extensive experience in the fields. However, degree programs focusing on healthcare advocacy are cropping up across the United States.

One of the best things about patient advocacy is the variety of jobs you can take on. Not all patient advocates work in hospitals. Many work in non-profits, insurance companies, and government agencies. If you haven’t had clinical experience, you can still use your skills as a patient advocate.

What is a Patient Advocate?

Patient advocates come in a variety of specialties. No matter the field, their primary job is to ensure that patients receive the care they need and stand up for patients’ rights. Basically, patient advocacy encompasses any job that is for a patient’s benefit.

Patient advocates can be government agencies, non-profits, or individual healthcare workers. For the purpose of this article, we will assume “patient advocate” is an individual.

There are 5 main types of patient advocacy:

Medical Assistance: Work closely with patients in hospitals providing medical assistance. May help diagnose or treat disorders. May accompany patient to appointments. Must have previous medical experience/medical knowledge. Good job for retired doctors and nurses.

Insurance Assistance: Assist with navigating the confusing world of health insurance. Make sure patients have the necessary coverage. Deal with insurance companies on behalf of the patient and/or family.

Home Health Assistance: Assist patients who at their homes. Similar to nursing assistants or home health aides. May perform therapy or rehabilitation services as well as daily living assistance.

Elder and Geriatric Assistance: May work in a patient’s home, assisted-living or nursing home facilities. Similar to home health assistance, but focused on the elderly.

Legal Assistance: Assists patients with legal troubles. May help file malpractice claims, worker’s compensation, or disability. Must have prior legal experience. Licensed attorney preferred.

What Makes a Good Patient Advocate?

Requirements for patient advocates will depend on the area you place to work in. Here’s a short breakdown of the common requirements for each specialty. Please note, these may not apply in every situation, and requirements may vary from job to job.

Medical Assistance:
• Previous medical experience and knowledge such as a job as a doctor, nurse, physician assistant or other healthcare professional.
• Desire to stand up for patients’ rights
• Ability to speak to authority figures like doctors and insurance companies with the patient’s best interests in mind
• Compassion and empathy
• Friendly disposition
• Ability to work with people from a variety of backgrounds
• Excellent communication skills
• Ability to multi-task and remain organized

Insurance Assistance:
• Knowledge of the health insurance system, including private insurance and Medicare/Medicaid
• Experience in billing and/or coding a plus
• Compassion and empathy
• Patience
• Friendly disposition
• Ability to stand up to insurance companies with the patient’s best interests in mind
• Excellent communication skills
• Ability to multi-task and remain organized

Home Health Assistance:
• Experience working as a nursing assistant or home health aide
• Compassion and patience
• Ability to multi-task
• Friendly disposition
• Ability to make decisions in the patient’s best interest

Elderly and Geriatric Health Assistance:
• Experience working as a nursing assistant or home health aide
• Compassion and patience
• Ability to multi-task
• Friendly disposition
• Ability to make decisions in the patient’s best interest
• Experience working in geriatrics preferred

Legal Assistance:
• Experience working in the legal system
• Understanding of malpractice, disability, Medicare, etc.
• Compassion and patience
• Ability to make tough decisions that are in the patient’s best interest
• Open-minded
• Experience working with people from a variety of backgrounds

How Can a Patient Advocate Help?

Because patient advocates can work in a variety of places and wear many hats, their range of influence is wide. How you help will obviously depend on where you choose to specialize. Those in medical assistance may work in hospitals, nursing homes, or community clinics. Interested in insurance assistance? You will could work for an insurance company or non-profit organization. Lawyers who give legal assistance may have their own practices or work pro-bono. In many of these fields, you could work for government agency.

Of course, you can be a patient advocate while keeping the job you currently have and volunteering your time. Because there is never a shortage of patients, there will always be a need for patient advocates.

Steps to Becoming a Patient Advocate

The role of patient advocate is fairly new, and there are only a handful of institutions that offer certificates or degrees in patient advocacy. Patient advocates typically give themselves the title. However, there are a few schools that offer patient advocacy programs:

• Cleveland State University
• Sarah Lawrence College
• The University of Wisconsin
• Stanford University

If you are considering becoming a patient advocate but you don’t want to go back to school, you should choose a specialty area and gain experience. As we said, many patient advocates are healthcare professionals with advanced experience in a specific field who go on to volunteer their time as an advocate.

Learn more about exciting and rewarding careers in healthcare at AllHealthcare.com.

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