Private patient advocates act as personal assistants, navigating care
By Rhonda Alexander
“Healthcare is complicated,” says Dan Polk, MD, neonatal physician turned private patient advocate. “It’s difficult because there is a lot of information that needs to be processed by people who don’t deal with medical stuff on a daily basis.”
While Polk is referring to babies when he says he works for patients who can’t speak for themselves, in reality, many patients could use someone who is versed in the art of patient advocacy.
Private patient advocates are problem-solvers who work as consultants for individual patients to help manage healthcare. Services include accompanying patients to doctor visits, sitting bedside at a hospital, reviewing medical bills and handling insurance claims.
While some patient advocates work for insurance companies and others are on staff in hospitals, the growing field of private patient advocacy is a direct result of a need for more one-on-one assistance.
“The difference between private patient advocates and those who are on staff at hospitals and insurance companies is the allegiance factor,” says Teri Dreher, RN, owner of North Shore Patient Advocates.
While advocates employed by hospitals or insurance companies are beholden to their organization first, a private advocate focuses solely on the patient. The difference with private patient advocates is that, “We’re solely working for a better outcome for the patient,” Polk explains.
Hospital-based advocates educate patients about different aspects of care, focus on patient safety and assist patients with the necessary forms. But when patients need more direct contact, more time for explanations for complicated cases and more communication with their families, hospitals simply don’t have the staff to provide that extra layer of personal service.
Retaining the services of a private patient advocate is like having your own personal translator. Let’s face it, if you aren’t familiar with the inner workings of a hospital, the language and the protocol, it’s like having to learn a foreign language on the fly and just hoping that you make the right decisions for yourself or your loved one.
Once a private patient advocate is hired, “It’s like having a nurse or doctor in the family,” Dreher says.
While having a private patient advocate seems like it’s only for the wealthy and only for massively complicated cases, the costs can vary, depending on the needs of the patient. “Costs can range anywhere from $75 per hour to as much as $500 per hour,” Dreher explains. “And services can be as simple as vetting a physician to something as complicated as round-the-clock care.”
A neighbor you can trust One obvious constituency is adult children who live out of state from their aging or ill parents, Dreher says.
The out-of-town children can’t quit their jobs or leave their spouses or children to frequently travel to care for their parents. Having a private patient advocate is like having a trusted friend to help with care and communication.
Many times, adult children can’t get the whole story from the parent because the parent simply can’t
explain the situation properly, which can be a source of frustration on both sides. Private patient advocates can alleviate a heap of frustration by providing reassurance that things are headed in the right direction.
“Anyone copes better when they have a pretty reasonable understanding of what is going on and what to expect,” Polk states.
Frustration can escalate a situation that could otherwise be alleviated by “knowing who to go to when there’s a problem, knowing the limitations of time and understanding what’s important—all of which save time and money,” Dreher says.
Luckily, private patient advocates—with the emphasis on private—are there to help with care and communication.
“When you feel frustrated,” Polk says, “don’t think anger; think advocacy.”