Patient advocates can help explain complex medical jargon, assist with billing, or even book appointments. Seniors living alone or juggling information about several conditions may find these advocates particularly useful.Learn more about patient advocates, their role within the health care system, and how they can help you navigate it.
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The patient advocate definition changes depending on what is needed by the patient. Patient advocates generally answer health questions, educate patients and family members, and offer support according to the medical needs of the patient, as outlined by the University of Rochester Medical Center — Health Encyclopedia.
A patient advocate is also known as the following:
Patient advocates don’t provide medical advice on their own, although sometimes physicians or nurses act as patient advocates and then provide medical advice. Generally, advocates help you to get the right advice from medical practitioners and understand it. Then, they help you manage the recommended care. Some patient advocates work as independent contractors or volunteers, while others are hospital or insurance employees.
For aging seniors or busy caregivers, the reasons to consider working with a patient advocate are compelling.
When you meet with a doctor, you generally have limited time with them before they need to see other patients. Medical terms and jargon can sometimes make it feel like they’re speaking a different language. A higher level of education and strong language skills help patients communicate with their doctor, according to the research journal Patient Education and Counseling. But, not all patients have this background, and this is where medical advocates can help.
Patient and medical advocates not only help patients understand difficult language, but they can help patients walk into the appointment with a plan. Because patient advocates can attend doctor appointments with you, they can take notes and help you ask the right questions while you’re there. Their knowledge of the health care system means they know important things to ask and say that an average patient might not.
Patient advocate Catherine Callahan described helping one of her clients get ready for an upcoming doctor’s visit, “I helped him prepare by working together on putting down his symptoms and the four main questions that he wanted to be answered. I printed out copies for him, the doctor, and me.”
When the patient got to the appointment, they knew exactly what to say. Callahan helped slow the appointment down and made sure the doctor took the time to provide the answers needed. Ultimately, the patient had a better understanding of his condition with the help of the advocate.
According to recent data, up to 80% of all U.S. medical bills include errors. Because the U.S. billing system can be complicated, there’s a lot of room for mistakes. And, many consumers don’t know how to properly read a medical bill or spot a problem. They just know the numbers are often shockingly confusing and large.
Patient advocates are better equipped to understand the different charges in a medical bill. By negotiating with providers, asking the right questions, and spotting billing errors, patient advocates can help avoid unnecessary overpayment. They’ll also help you stay on top of any incoming bills if you’re in the hospital or ill.
Health care providers are busy and can have a hard time providing all the necessary information during a short appointment. This can make it harder for you to truly understand your care needs and condition. As a result, patients and loved ones may feel like they don’t know what’s going on or how best to proceed.
When Sheri Manska’s dad was dealing with prostate cancer, she was at a loss when it came to understanding important medical prognosis information.
“There was a gap in understanding the most serious aspects of his health,” Manska said. “The gap was not so much in knowing what was happening medically, but in knowing how it was supposed to happen.”
Manska didn’t work with a patient advocate at the time but now wishes she had.
“It seemed the medical personnel were too busy to keep us informed or may not be doing tests or treatment that would get us more information so we could know what to do,” she explained. “A patient advocate would have helped immensely.”
Many patient advocates conduct research into medical conditions and treatments to supplement the information your doctors provide. This way, you have a better idea of the details behind the prognosis and treatment recommendations your doctor brings up.
Caregiving can take a toll on a caregiver’s health. Offloading some of the most confusing and frustrating parts of dealing with doctors will inevitably reduce a caregiver’s stress levels. Caregivers who typically attend parents’ doctor visits to help with their care should use a patient advocate to lighten their load.
If you’re unsure whether you or your loved one needs a patient advocate, consider the following health and lifestyle questions:
After considering your options, remember that the Senior Living Advisors at A Place for Mom are always available to answer any questions, free of charge. They’re a great resource and can guide you towards finding the perfect level of care for you or a loved one.
Aelbrecht K., Hanssens L., Detollenaere J., Willems S., Deveugele M., & Pype P. (2019, April). Determinants of physician-patient communication: The role of language, education and ethnicity. Patient Education and Counseling.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. How the Medicare beneficiary ombudsman works for you. CMS.gov.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Medicare beneficiary ombudsman (MBO). CMS.gov.
The LBL Group. (2019, May 21). How common are medical billing errors?
University of Rochester Medical Center: Health Encyclopedia. Health newcomer: The patient advocate.
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