Patient Advocates Prove Beneficial

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By Mary Harris; Founder of Lifelong Wellness Advocates, LLC- Denver
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Are you or someone you know the 1 out of the 3 people that research indicates are affected by hospital medical errors? Health care misdiagnoses, improper care and/or lack of priority for the best care available are common scenarios that can be managed.

Other problem areas that people in need of care experience:

  • Returning from a doctor’s appointment wishing they had asked more questions yet were overwhelmed with medical jargon or intimidated by the doctor‘s status during the appointment.
  • Not pursuing additional opinions on a recent diagnosis.
  • Receiving medical bills that are not only confusing but also incorrect for services performed. 
  • Insurance coverage denial for medical procedures or treatment plans that they need.

Unfortunately, these are very common situations in the current and foreseeable future of the stressed U.S. healthcare system. These overwhelming and frustrating encounters have created a demand in the healthcare industry for independent patient advocates. There is a growing need for people to be professionally represented and take a proactive role in managing their health to prevent incomplete or improper care, reduce denial of coverage and/or incorrect billings. Independent patient advocates or personal health advocates help to manage the health care process for individuals and families.

Currently, there are several hundred private patient advocates in the U.S. and the number is growing to ramp up to demand. Unlike professionals who are termed as patient advocates on staff at a hospital or insurance company, an independent and private patient advocate is not affiliated with or paid by a potential conflict of interest organization. A private patient advocate is typically paid directly by the individual or the family to help find and decide on the best options to prevent a crisis and/or manage a care situation with their client’s interest as the priority.

When someone is hospitalized there are many serious and sometimes fatal situations that can arise if a patient does not at least have a dedicated and qualified friend or family member carefully managing their care. Many families do not have this and the differences in diagnoses, treatments and care can be significant. Some examples of this: 

  • Incorrect medications/dosages cause 7,000 deaths annually.
  • Hospital-acquired infections affect 1 out of every 10 patients.
  • Unnecessary falls in the hospital occur frequently.
  • Transitioning from a hospital to a residential setting introduces another level of complications that can be avoided with effective communication during the discharge process. 

What are some specific tasks that you may want to hire a patient advocate to do for you or your family?

  • Help you prepare for a doctor’s appointment and/or participate with you during the appointment.
  • Provide care coordination between your multiple providers during your illness.
  • Help you find experts in your area of need.
  • Help you identify and prioritize your care options.
  • Advise you on treatment options, home care services and insurance issues.
  • Improve communication between medical providers and family members to ensure that appropriate actions are being taken in a timely manner.
  • Assist you in deciphering and negotiating your medical bills.
  • Research new drugs, treatments and clinical trials.
  • Provide hospital bedside companion service.
  • Assist you in hiring and managing in-home caregivers.

Patient advocates at their best are problem solvers and project managers who strive to provide their clients with the knowledge they need to make timely, informed decisions. Many advocates have backgrounds as individuals who have learned about the problems of the system through personal experience, are experts in facilitation/ management and can think outside the current system’s issues. A patient advocate typically charges by the hour for their services. Hourly rates can range from $60-$300/hour based on education, training, experience and skills.

Where can you find a private patient advocate? A good place to start is through national organizations that have members listed by geographic location and expertise. For example, the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants (NAHAC) and AdvoConnection have web sites that offer a directory of members so you can find an advocate based on your specific need and location. http:///www.nahac.com and http://www.advoconnection.com

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