More broadly, patient advocacy can include groups that develop policies and legislation to improve systems or processes for patients, such as the Alzheimer's Association, the Diabetes UK|British Diabetic Association, and the American Cancer Society. Such patient advocacy organizations are characteristically non-profit and focus on one aspect of health care or a specific disease, generally also conducting fundraising and awareness campaigns and producing healthcare literature and information services. These organizations normally do not engage in the provision of clinical support or the conduct of liaison between patient and provider.
The patient advocate may be an individual or an organization. The terms patient advocate and patient advocacy can refer both to individual advocates providing services that organizations also provide, and to organizations whose functions extend to individual patients. There are also governmental agencies that study and ensure compliance with government regulations including financial aid. Some patient advocates work for the institutions that are directly responsible for the patient's care.
An individual patient advocate typically acts as liaison between a patient and their health care provider. By professional background, individual patient advocates have often been case managers in the field of social work whose specialty is navigating the bureaucracy of large health insurance|health plans or government-provided services, or former physician|doctors, nursing|nurses or other trained health care professionals who have re-focused on helping patients in their decision-making. Patient advocacy services can also include transition assistance to older patients moving into assisted living and nursing homes, or such mundane but essential tasks as transportation, bill tracking, and payment assistance. There is currently no accredited certification or licensing for patient advocacy in the United States, the United Kingdom, or thus far in any other country. Many colleges and university|universities offer educational opportunities for students wishing to provide patient advocacy services.* These range from weekend workshops, to online Web conferencing|webinars, to year-long certificate programs. Patient advocates are individually responsible for self-education concerning the general business of medicine, Health maintenance organization|HMO rules, and local institutional changes to compliance articulation and implementation, as well as following relevant legislative changes.
Individual patient advocateA patient advocate may be present for health care appointments and alert the health care provider to patient compliance issues. He or she may separately assist the health care provider and support staff with potential issues and communication. The patient advocate is responsible for maintaining communication with the patient and health care provider to help ensure patient understanding of procedures. By reducing fear and increasing patient compliance, this can result in a higher incidence of successful treatment. Generally, a patient advocacy contract that includes a Release of information department|release of medical information must be placed with each healthcare facility. A power of attorney for healthcare may be required by some institutions for a patient advocate to exchange confidential information.
The patient advocate may provide medical literature and research services to the patient, family, or health care provider. The patient advocate may also assist with family communication on issues arising from illness and injury. This may include further referral for care and support for both patients and families. The patient advocate has a responsibility for awareness of compliance, appropriateness, and coordination of care for the patient, such as oversight for potentially conflicting treatment modalities and medications. The patient advocate can ensure that questions about the appropriateness of treatment are promptly discussed with the patient's care provider, and that all treatments and concerns are promptly entered into the patient's health care record. The patient advocate is also responsible for reviewing the patient's health care record for correctness and explaining it to the patient. Creation and maintenance of an electronic log for the patient that is available on disk to health care providers is another responsibility of the patient advocate, which may be of great benefit in subsequent urgent situations.
The patient advocate can also assist in resolving disputes between patients and their health care provider, as well as engaging in communications on behalf of the patient in the case of employment issues, engaging with the employer to achieve a mutually beneficial solution for the employer and the individual employee. Where applicable compliance standards are not met, the patient advocate may conduct liaison with corporate oversight, government agencies, or legal professionals to further negotiate such issues on behalf of the patient and family.
It is the duty of a patient advocate to maintain patient privacy according to local and national laws, treating all patient and family information as privileged and protected. This includes ensuring that health care provider communications are treated as highly confidential and privileged, whether or not those communications are specific to the patient, and that permissions to disclose information are negotiated carefully. It is also the duty of the patient advocate to follow any referrals for medical, financial, legal, administrative or other personnel to assure that the patient is always kept safe and well informed, never abandoned or misled during the process.
Individual patient advocate organizationsOrganizations providing referrals to individual patient advocates who provide services for a fee include:
Patient advocacy groupsThere are organizations, generally non-profit, that focus on specific diseases or aspects of health care. In such health advocacy organizations, patient advocates may sit on investigative and advisory panels to ensure that ongoing projects and those being considered for funding will directly impact patients' lives, improving delivery of care and support for tertiary care. Patient advocates may also sit on finance boards to analyze cost containment and act as proponents for best practices, advocating better protection for provider and patient.
Some health benefit or employee assistance plans include patient advocacy services offered by third-party patient advocacy companies. Depending on the scope of services included, members or employees can get assistance with scheduling, quality review, care management, and bill negotiation or mediation for the portion of the bills that are the patient's responsibility. Such services are typically available to plan members or employees at little to no additional charge. A benefit of this type of arrangement is that independent third-party firms have fewer conflicts when advocating for members or employees as compared to advocates who are employees of health care providers or insurers.
The National Patient Advocate Foundation* is a non-profit organization in the United States dedicated to improving access to, and reimbursement for, high-quality healthcare through regulatory and legislative reform at the state and federal levels. Its companion Patient Advocate Foundation provides professional case management services to individuals.
The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates *is a membership organization for private, professional patient advocates, and those who are exploring the possibility of becoming private advocates. It provides business support such as legal, insurance and marketing. It is also the foundation of AdvoConnection * the largest and most comprehensive directory of private advocates available to patients and caregivers.