Experts say a health advocate can help patients ask the right questions, save on medications, navigate through a complex health system
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
You receive a stunning medical diagnosis that will require a long, arduous treatment and recovery.
Your elderly father lives in another state. He functions well overall, but seems confused about his myriad of doctor’s appointments and medications.
Your child’s health falters and you cannot find the right specialist to give you solid answers and treatment options.
Any of these scenarios — and more — could indicate that a health care advocate could help you and your family.
While health insurance typically does not cover the cost of retaining a health care advocate, Trisha Torrey, head of The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates in Florida, said that a health care advocate can help patients save money in some cases, such as finding a better price on medication or guiding patients toward the right specialist instead of paying for care that doesn’t help.
“What Americans have learned is the health care system is only set up to help patients if they can make money off patients,” Torrey said. “The money has gotten in the way.”
The many changes in the health care and health insurance industries in recent years have left patients reeling. Torrey compares health care advocates with attorneys, as few people would represent themselves in court on an important or highly complex case.
Lowered reimbursements have forced physicians to cram more patients into their caseload to ensure they can stay solvent. Torrey said that doctors used to see 20 patients daily, but now try to see up to double that amount. As a result, the patient experience suffers. Health care advocates can help care providers by ensuring that the patient asks all the questions he needs to ask, understands the doctor’s orders and adheres to the orders, too.
Torrey added that these steps are hard to do for patients who are in pain or taking some medication.
Torrey said that at first, physicians thought advocates would take up valuable visit time; however, many more providers are realizing that advocates actually save them time.
Torrey said that the demand for advocates is growing. She has about 250 to 300 independent advocates in the US and Canada. Many come from clinical or social services backgrounds.
“You can’t understand the health care system,” Torrey said. “It’s intentionally set up to be obscure. The only way to get through the system with the health care you deserve is to have a patient advocate by your side.”
Wesley Edwards, a community health advocate with the Center for Community Health Heart Advocate Program, said that his job is to help patients take charge of their health and navigate the health care system. Often, health care advocates act as a liaison between patient and provider. The center is part of University of Rochester Medical Center.
“Very often, patients come in to see their provider to discuss multiple concerns,” Edwards said. “The care provider’s busy schedule results in less time available to speak with patients during office visits. The advocate provides an additional forum for the patient to discuss all of their concerns, and relays those issues to their provider accordingly.”
He believes that this improved communication helps patients make better health decisions and aid them in connecting with community resources that can help them.
Providers also benefit as they can learn more about their patients and their patients better adhere to their recommendations.
“By empowering individuals to become more informed and engaged with their health, we reduce the need for unnecessary visits and allow providers to reach even more patients,” Edwards said.