In Elder Law News

Patient advocate holds clipboard and talks to senior woman about her chronic health condition.More than 70 percent of adults in the U.S. report being dissatisfied with the health care system, according to TIME Magazine. Navigating the medical services network can be stressful and overwhelming, particularly for older adults facing increasingly complex health needs.

The American Psychological Association reports that distress is common following a diagnosis. Those experiencing additional stressful life events or who have a history of depression have even higher levels of distress.

Often, responding to a diagnosis or managing a chronic condition involves coordinating care with multiple providers and working with insurance companies.

Patients should always be prepared to advocate for themselves. Self-advocacy can include:

  • Coming to appointments with a list of questions and current medications
  • Completing paperwork in advance
  • Researching what their insurance covers

These tasks can be challenging for individuals facing the stress of a new diagnosis or handling a chronic condition. Some illnesses, such as dementia, may affect a patient’s ability to self-advocate.

Patient Advocates

When someone struggles to assert their needs or feels confused by the health care system, patient advocates can provide crucial support. Championing the patient’s best interests, a patient or health care advocate works to ensure that the patient receives appropriate care.

A family member, a close friend, or a hired professional can fill the role of a patient advocate. Generally, there is no formal licensing for health care advocates. Still, hired advocates may have backgrounds as health care providers, social workers, nurses, or professionals in related fields. Many hospitals have on-staff patient advocates.

Why Patient Advocacy Can Be Useful

Health care advocates can help with tasks that may be challenging for someone facing a severe illness. This might include coordinating care, completing paperwork, and filing insurance claims.

An advocate can guide you throughout the health care process. Before an appointment, a patient advocate may assist with completing paperwork and verifying insurance coverage. Working with the patient, the advocate can help come up with a list of questions for the provider.

When attending appointments, the advocate may listen to the physician, ask questions, and take notes for later review with the patient. After the appointment, the advocate can help the patient understand the doctor’s instructions and manage treatment.

In some cases, a patient advocate can also help identify clinical research opportunities and assist with evaluating whether to take an experimental medication or participate in a research study. Some researchers provide patient advocates as part of the study.

How to Find a Patient Advocate

While a family member or friend can be a patient advocate, sometimes, no one is available to help. If you have no one to advocate for you, you can find help through your hospital or by researching advocates online.

To find a professional patient advocate, contact your hospital and ask if there is an advocate on staff. VA health facilities have advocates on staff as well. You may also want to visit the Patient Advocate Foundation website. This nonprofit provides case management services that help patients access and afford health care services.

When looking for a patient advocate, be cautious of scammers. Be wary of people who seem to be making unrealistic promises or pressuring you. 

Consider an Attorney

While patient advocates can help with the basic tasks of navigating the health care system, an attorney can assist with specific legal issues.

For example, a qualified local attorney may be able to assist by handling communications with a private insurance company or Medicare. Elder law and estate planning attorneys can also help you create an estate plan, which includes planning health care decisions. If your health care provider makes a mistake in your care, an attorney can work to protect your rights.

Having an attorney, in addition to a patient advocate, can provide an extra layer of support and protection. Find an attorney near you today.

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