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Patient Advocates

Patient advocates can play an essential part in your receiving the best medical care possible. A patient advocate will help you determine what you need and ensure that you are receiving the proper care.

What a patient advocate does

Patient advocates provide a variety of services that can help patients navigate the healthcare system.

A patient care advocate could assist in coordinating care and attend your doctor's appointments to guide you in asking the right questions and keeping track of your doctor's recommendations. Though the services provided vary by the individual advocate, he or she may be able help you understand your diagnosis and treatment options and make difficult medical decisions. A patient advocate could help you access your medical records and understand the results of medical tests, deal with medical billing errors and negotiate those bills.

While hospitals and insurance companies employ patient advocates, who can assist patients and answer questions, experts recommend hiring an independent patient advocate if you are seeking a professional who can advocate solely on your behalf, such as in a dispute over billing.

Finding patient advocates

Since patient advocacy is still a growing field, it can take a bit of work to find someone in your area.

Start by asking trusted nurses or doctors for suggestions of someone with whom they've worked before. Check whether a patient advocate is a member of the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates or registered with the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants.

Verify their qualifications, such as education, including continuing education, by consulting Angie's List, where you can also see member reviews and rankings.

Choosing a patient advocate

First, determine the services for which you'll need a patient advocate. Then consider their background. For example, many patient advocates have experience in the health care industry, such as working as a nurse. There are no nationally recognized credentials for a patient advocate, but a number of schools offer certificates in patient advocacy.

Interview the advocate and ask questions before hiring, from gaging their experience in handling cases similar to yours to inquiring about any compensation they receive from sources other than patients to evaluate potential conflicts of interest. Ask, too, if they have professional liability and/or Errors and Ommissions Insurance, which will protect you and the advocate, should they make a mistake in advising you.

Also, ask how much your patient advocate charges, as well as how long it will take to offer the services needed.

Be sure to ask for references, too. Ask all supplied references if the patient advocate offered helpful services. Would they hire the advocate again? Getting information from people who have worked with the patient advocate in the past is one of the best ways to get a sense of the advocate's abilities.