Have you interacted with a private patient advocate? If not, there is an excellent chance you will soon, because private patient advocacy is one of the fastest-growing health care fields in the United States. As our modern healthcare system becomes more complex, Americans are increasingly turning to patient advocates to help them navigate.
You may be thinking the last thing you need is another backseat driver getting between you and your patient’s care. You may be worried that a private patient advocate will automatically second guess every diagnosis and treatment plan.
Be assured: that is not their purpose or intent.
Private patient advocates frequently make physicians’ lives easier, while ensuring their patients follow doctors’ orders. Skeptical? Let’s explore what private patient advocates do and five ways they work collaboratively with physicians to ensure patients receive great healthcare.
What’s a private patient advocate?
The field of patient advocacy is relatively new. Not coincidentally, it burst on the scene at the same time as the Affordable Care Act. Many patients without a medical background find modern healthcare and insurance navigation to be fractured, frustrating and confusing. They complain about the lack of teaching and are not happy with care providers who spend more time looking at computer screens than looking into the eyes of the patient and feel rushed when they do come for doctor’s appointments. They don’t know what questions to ask and do not remember instructions, which leads to noncompliance of the treatment plan due to lack of understanding and reinforcement.
Private patient advocates perform a wide range of tasks for clients, including:
• Educating patients and their families about their medical conditions
• Asking physicians' questions a layperson wouldn’t know to ask
• Acting as liaison between patients and providers
• Researching a patient’s full range of treatment options following a diagnosis
• Looking out for a patient while he or she is hospitalized
• Ensuring insurance claims get paid
The most experienced are veteran registered nurses, also known as RN patient advocates. Other advocates may not have hands-on healthcare experience beyond their advocacy training. When you’re working with someone, it helps to know their background.
Now that you know what private patient advocates do for clients, let’s look at five ways they can also benefit physicians.
Private patient advocates save physicians time
Every physician has complex patients who require close monitoring, need more emotional support, or demand more time. A private patient advocate will help fill this role.
Sometimes, these types of patients are isolated and need high-level care managers who function like a cross between advanced practice nurses, family members, and experts in complex care management. In this event, a private patient advocate can provide the face-to-face contact the patient needs, run interference for physicians and ask questions a patient would normally call a doctor about, and report back when required. And because the patient pays his private advocate directly, it doesn’t cost physicians a penny.
Private patient advocates save physicians money
Speaking of which, the reality of healthcare today is time is money. The more patients a physician’s practice can see every hour, the greater the profit margin — and that’s no small thing.
Many doctors would likely rather spend five minutes updating a knowledgeable professional rather than spend 20 minutes with an overwhelmed patient, knowing the advocate will educate his client later. By the same token, private patient advocates can bring physicians up to speed on a client’s status in the fraction of the time a patient could.
Private patient advocates spare physicians’ frustration and worry
Every physician’s practice has at least a few grumpy older patients with complex conditions and declining cognitive abilities. Not only do they require significant blocks of time, they cause concern on the part their doctors due to their limited comprehension and high risk of noncompliance.
Patient advocates can prepare a list of questions for the doctor, making best use of the physician’s time. When they accompany the patient on an office visit, they can speak “medical shorthand” that helps both parties understand one another.
Furthermore, they follow up with the patient: teaching, monitoring compliance, watching for side effects of new medications. In short, through their oversight, they can act as a safety net for difficult, fragile patients that extends beyond the office setting.
Private patient advocates see your patients at home
Similarly, private patient advocates get to observe patients at home. They can monitor medications, diet and therapies and check in as needed. Often, they can spot signs of impending trouble before a calamity happens.
Private patient advocates help prevent medical errors
Medical errors continue to plague the healthcare industry. Often they’re due to miscommunication gaps across the healthcare continuum — gaps a private patient advocate can help bridge.
For example, we recently accompanied a long-term client with rapidly-progressing cellulitis/sepsis to the ED. Upon arrival, he had petechiae over his trunk and extremities that were suspicious of early signs of DIC. However, he was sitting up chatting with everyone and had no fever.
Because we knew what his past history/patterns of early sepsis were, we were able to communicate critical information to the ED staff, who acted quickly. Thanks to aggressive fluid resuscitation and antibiotics, the patient returned to his baseline within a few days and returned home without complications.
Advocates want the same thing that physicians do. In addition to coordinating with doctors, they partner with hospitals, insurance companies, CCRCs and caregivers to look out for the patient’s best interest. The AMA recently stated that “everyone today needs a patient advocate.” We second that opinion.
Teri Dreher, RN, CCRN, iRNPA, is an award-winning RN patient advocate and a pioneer in the growing field of private patient advocacy. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, today she is owner/founder of NShore Patient Advocates, the largest advocacy company in the Chicago area. She was awarded her industry’s highest honor, The APHA H. Kenneth Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award, in 2015. Her 2016 book, “Patient Advocacy Matters,” is now in its second printing.