A Proper Definition of Patient Advocacy
In today’s healthcare setting, there are providers of various services, and those who use those services or Patients. That seems like a common sense, basic description right? Between those two groups is a wealth of complications that need advocates to help resolve issues. Providers and Patients, a relationship meant to be of benefit to both parties, run into situations sometimes that require a third party intermediary.
Many health settings have Patient Advocates on staff. The terminology is actually beginning to go by the wayside though because patients are crying foul at what health care patient advocates are actually there for. They, rightly, say that patient advocates are not there to help them so much as to ensure that health care institutions and providers do not get sued. Some health systems are removing the title of Patient Advocate and using other terms that more accurately describe what their staff members are really there for.
So, is there a need for Patient Advocates? Absolutely! Are there many actually out there that understand the need and provide services for the Patient’s benefit? No. I believe it is because the field has been muddied due to inaccurate classification of the title as it relates to provision of them in a healthcare setting. In other words, because the healthcare system used the title one way for so long, people haven’t seen that it was not real patient advocacy until recently. The field is open for low level advocacy that does not require a law team to handle.
What should Patient Advocacy really be? It is a person, or team of people who go to bat on behalf of the patient as it relates to disputes in regard to services provided and billing and insurance issues. Let’s say a patient went to the Emergency Room and had to wait such a long time that the level of care needed escalated over time because the time waiting was in their mind excessive. They reported it to the hospital, but have not gotten anyone to listen to them. A Patient Advocate could be helpful here to resolve the conflict. There was nothing legally wrong with what happened, so a lawyer isn’t needed, but a healthcare specialist, someone who has worked in the industry, could help the patient navigate the situation so that they feel like their voice has been heard and the health system has taken seriously their situation. Nothing might come out of it other than recognition of the problem and as assurance that the hospital is working on making sure this doesn’t happen again, but for most people, that would be all they need to move on and let go of their frustration.
What is an advocate? An advocate, according to Merriam-Webster, is “one that pleads the cause of another.” A Patient Advocate ties that into the healthcare field specifically. Advocacy is provided across many different areas of life. These are people who believe in helping others resolve issues and using their unique passion and skills to accomplish that goal. Health systems have used the term and their people have done their best within a narrowly defined allowance of tasks. Their ultimate goal though is to limit liability for the health system. They do have a sincere desire to help the patient, but when the patient and the health system collide, their role is on the side of the health system, not the patient. Patient’s need people to go to bat for them without a clear conflict of interest.
Understanding what real patient advocacy is, and figuring out how to provide this for patient’s in such a way as to find the middle ground between legal matters and people just griping, but there not needing to be a real course of action for resolution pursued, is challenging. It is a greatly needed role though. Many people feel they have no voice. They want to be heard, cared about and helped. Healthcare if overwhelming because it is complex and confusing. There are a lot of things to know and most people have no clue how to resolve those kinds of problems. True Patient Advocacy puts the patient first, but also wants to resolve issues so that the health system comes away from the resolution knowing the right outcome has been reached.