Who hasn’t heard, read, or know of people getting victimized in the health care system? Maybe they were overwhelmed by a hospitalization, feeling that there is too much information to process, and too many very important decisions to be made, they suffered or perhaps died. Maybe this has happened to a member of your family, a friend, or ever a co-worker.
On the other hand, are you tenacious, sympathetic, good on the phone, capable of respectful firmness and not uncomfortable in hospitals and around sick people?
If your answer to the first question was yes and to the second also yes, you have an understanding of the needs of hospital patients and their families and the personality to help a family in crisis. Patient champions, also known as patient advocates, may be employed, volunteers or a business opportunity for you in a role becoming regarded as indispensable. USA Today recommends that in speaking with a doctor when weak or ill, a patient “Bring an advocate.” (February 5, 2007.)
Many large medical centers have patient advocates on staff to help resolve communication difficulties between doctor and patient/family as well as to address issues about food, environmental conditions, staff, etc. These are personnel who may be nurses or social workers. Hospital chaplains also serve as patient advocates. Staff positions for patient advocates are extremely rare in community hospitals and rural institutions. In these smaller health facilities volunteer patient advocates may be in use.
Patients and their families appreciate patient champion services but can be suspect when those providing by the institution providing the care offer them. This is one place where the paid advocate makes an entrance. In very large urban centers the number of advocates cannot match the need, so hes where paid advocate have opportunities.
This is becoming a pressing need for aging Boomers, one of out five of whom are single with no children. Another niche is children. Advocating for children who are ill requires special knowledge about guardianship rules and child rights. Parents of these patients are often much more emotional than relatives of other patients and dealing with them requires extra skill.
The health care industry is fraught with rules that must be learned and understood. The most complex of these are the rules regarding confidentiality of information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, amended and adjusted, is followed by every hospital and every doctor. For anyone to discuss the health or treatment of a patient they will need to be assured that you have permission from the patient or their legal representative.
When you have jumped this hurdle you will find practitioners who don’t understand your role, see you as interference or perhaps as a challenge to their authority. This is where respectful firmness and tenacity will pay off. You can be perceived as partner, asset, time saver or you can be seen as nuisance, it is not always up to you but every energy directed on behalf of your patient will move professionals in this direction.
Being a patient champion or advocate is not for faint of heart. If you are willing to be awakened on occasion in the middle of the night and capable of dropping everything to address a crisis this may be for you. You will feel good when a patient get the services he or she needs and their health improves and you may well suffer along with patient and family as conditions cause a decline in health status. The positives far outweigh the negatives.
Patient Champion at a Glance
- Start-Up costs are minimal
- Overhead is low
- Potential Earnings are moderate
- Flexible hours – you set your own
- Overall stress – moderate compared to many occupations
- This is service can be bartered.
Likely Transferable Skills, Background, Careers:
Nurses and doctors have the knowledge to interpret medical information and know their way around. Others with hospital experience such as social workers, physical and occupational therapists, and others will bring their experiences dealing with other hospital personnel to the job. EMTs and other medical first responders will also transfer to the hospital setting with ease. Suzanne Steidl, founder of Your Daughter’s In Town (www.yourdaughtersintown.com) in Pittsburgh says that “While it’s not necessary to have a medical background, some background in advocacy is absolutely essential. The most effective advocates have the capacity to gather and organize information and coordinate care. They are vigilant overseers and skillful, fearless negotiators.”
What to Charge:
Patient Champions/Advocates can bill for their services on an hourly basis (up to as much $100 an hour) or on a retainer basis where you bill for as much as five or ten thousand dollars up front and take care of everything without further billing.
Best Ways to Get Business:
- Developing several presentations and offering them to the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary or other business associations where busy adults of an age where their parents or older siblings are apt to be in need of services like yours.
- Writing article or a column for newspapers or websites or both.
- Creating a website so out-of-town adult children can easily locate you and that offers the sense of assurance you will provide the attention their loved one needs; post testimonials, which you need to be sure to get from past clients.
- Personal and social networking in groups with professionals, such as financial planners, doctor, lawyers, pastors, and social workers who will have clients and patients in need of your service.
- Developing relationships with emergency room personnel and the staff of critical care units will bring referrals.
- Joining or even starting a local association of patient champions/advocates.
- Writing columns for local newspapers, writing a blog.
Tips for Getting Started
- If you’re not a skilled negotiator, take one or more courses.
- Volunteer to assist a friend, acquaintance, or relative. This can provide your first testimonials.
- Since this is a new field, you’ll be a pioneer in making people aware of what you can do and when they need you. Promotion is a large part of your marketing plan.
- Advocacy Skills for Health and Social Care Professionals, Neil Bateman, Jessica Kingsley Publishers
- The Not So Patient Advocate: How to Get the Health Care You Need Without Fear or Frustration, Ellen Menard
- The Patient Advocate’s Handbook 300 Questions And Answers To Help You Care For Your Loved One At The Hospital And At Home, James Thomas Williams
- Health Advocacy Toolbox at www.cthealthpolicy.org/toolbox
- Information from the U.S. Department Health and Human Services about the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA, Title II) which sets standards for electronic health care transactions and the security and privacy of health data. www.cms.hhs.gov/HIPAAgeninfo/
- Informed Consent is an important topic when it comes to experimental treatmentswww.info.med.yale.edu/caim/risk/patient_rights/patient_rights_2.html
- Patient Advocacy Foundation website at www.patientadvocate.org to find extensive information on advocacy.
- Patient-Centered Guides. The site is a source of copious amounts of healthcare information.www.patientcenters.com.
- The Center for Medical Consumers can be found at www.medicalconsumers.org
- The Child Advocate provides information on advocacy for children and their parents and rules related to children www.childadvocate.net/index.html
- Patient Advocate Foundation
- Professional Patient Advocate Institute
- RN Patient Advocate
- Patient Advocate
- DIA – Patient Advocate Fellowship subgroup
If you are interested in this field and would like an existing website, see patientchamption.com.