Too often, patients misunderstand a doctor’s diagnosis

It can be overwhelming and too technical to understand. That is when a health advocate (or patient advocate) steps in as a mediator between patients and health care providers.

What are Health Advocates?

A health advocate is a professional hired to ensure a patient receives maximum medical attention and treatment.

Patient advocates entered the scene out of necessity in the 1970s. Heart disease, stroke, and cancer patients were spending long periods of time in the hospital. They needed advocates to protect their rights and fill in the gap of understanding during a time when “health empires” were losing their focus: the patient.

What is the job of a Health Advocate?

Often, patients do not understand what they need medically, and a health advocate is there to translate what doctors have diagnosed and recommended. A health advocate supports and promotes patients’ rights, collaborates with health providers, and fills in the blanks when it comes to appointments, rehabilitation, prescription schedules, and financial advice.

Not only does a health advocate help the individual and family, but they campaign for changes in the medical industry, easier access to quality care, increased federal research funding, and community health care policies.

Who are these Advocates?

Patient advocates include hospital representatives, educators, registered nurses, patient navigators, health care managers, and health advisers. Many work privately or in community health centers, hospitals, non-profit organizations, or long term care facilities.

How does one become a Health Advocate?

There are no national or international standards in existence for certifying national or international health advocates. Many receive certification that is specific to its program.

Many universities and organizations (webinars, workshops, and certification programs) offer advocacy coursework. As of 2012, Sarah Lawrence College is only a graduate program that has a Health Advocacy Program. It provides a master’s degree allowing graduates to work in government agencies and organizations as patient advocates, educators, information specialists, and ombudsmen, and health policy advocates.

Advocate Support Groups

After receiving a diagnosis, many patients and families want to connect with advocacy support groups who are dealing with specific conditions.

For example, a woman diagnosed with breast cancer may want to connect with a breast cancer advocacy group to help her through the treatment journey. A man who has been diagnosed with cancer may seek out an advocacy and support group that helps him understand the medical jargon, therapy options, and the emotional challenges of cancer survivorship.

Support groups often provide a forum for sharing accurate information, experiences, solutions, services, and advances in medical technology. Because of the Internet, people are able to connect with greater ease than ever before, and advocacy groups are taking advantage of this resource.

How does one find an Advocacy Support Group?

Support groups are great in concept because they advise and support patients. However, in practicality, some participants feel overwhelmed or even bullied into taking a certain course of action. If a facilitator abuses their role, knowingly or unknowingly, it could be problematic for members, causing depression or trauma.

Here are some things to note when looking for a support group for you or for a loved one:

  1. Is the group leader trained in facilitating meetings such as these?
  2. Have they undergone leadership training from a health organization or association? Sometimes led by people? (Groups like the American Brain Association offer facilitating and leadership training.)
  3. Do the members feel supported with information on well-being, prevention, and getting on with your life?
  4. Does the leader engage conversation rather than telling you what doctor to use or what method of treatment works the best?

A Support Group is a Health Advocate and Patient Advocate

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