What is a Healthcare Advocate?

by Joanna Smith on Jul 6, 2010

In  this newly emerging field of healthcare advocacy, what is it that a Healthcare Advocate does?  How can they assist you?

The short answer is:  An Advocate can help you navigate through complex medical situations for yourself, your child, your parent or other family member.  But still, what does that mean?

As I currently see it,  after 25 years in the field of discharge planning and medical social work,  and six years running my own Advocacy business, Healthcare Advocates assist their clients in the following ways:

Making informed choices regarding available options for care  and resources within the healthcare system; working with clients at all “levels of care” in the  healthcare system, explaining diagnoses and procedures, assisting in considering alternate  treatment options, clarifying  personal values as they relate to medical treatments,   coordinating  medical services, case management and discharge planning, arranging  community-based services, assisting with complex medical decision-making, helping arrange  second opinions, securing services from other medical systems, and advocating for clients with insurance systems and healthcare providers.

These are a wide range of tasks, and some advocates will specialize in some tasks and not others.  It’s important to know what you most need help with, and then look for an Advocate with the training and background to help you in that specific area.

Equally important, however, is:  what does a Healthcare Advocate refrain from doing?  What services cross the line from Advocacy to providing direct service to a client or patient?  I think Healthcare Advocate Services should not include the following services:

1.  Giving second opinions;

2. Direct, hands-on medical care of any type, including, but not limited to the following:  physical exams, blood draws, wound care and surgical procedures.

Why is this distinction important?  Because once someone moves to “direct care” of a client or patient, it changes the dynamic; it may bring other parties (i.e., insurance companies) into the picture. From the client’s or patient’s view, it becomes difficult to see whether the direct provider is acting independent of these other parties.  Today’s world of Healthcare is moving to  transparency, and Healthcare Advocates can help ensure that process.