The United States healthcare system is extremely complex. Even people who work in the field might not fully understand all the systems involved with delivering and paying for healthcare. This is a major problem since the average patient might not know how to ensure that they’re getting the care they need or how to make sure their medical bills are paid.
All healthcare providers are busy, but if you’re working in the field of medicine, it’s important to understand what kinds of obstacles patients face and how to address them with health advocacy. Many people simply don’t have the health literacy to navigate the system, which leads to poorer outcomes, lack of access, and other consequences.
People getting substandard care because they don’t know how to submit bills properly or due to a language barrier, for instance, is unacceptable. Healthcare professionals need to fully understand the role of health advocates and take them seriously.
What is Health Advocacy?
Health advocacy is all about helping patients get the healthcare services they need. A health advocate helps people get through any aspect of the healthcare delivery process they have trouble with. Advocates must understand the individual patient’s needs and work to remove obstacles that could affect their health outcomes.
An advocate might perform many tasks on behalf of the patient, which might include:
- Taking notes during an appointment
- Asking questions on the patient’s behalf.
- Calling the patient’s insurance company
- Helping patients understand their health conditions and treatment options
- Completing difficult administrative tasks
- Reminding patients to take their medications and follow their doctors’ instructions.
Who Can Be a Health Advocate?
Essentially, anyone a patient trusts can be their health advocate. Personal advocates are often family members or close friends. A caregiver can also act as a health advocate. As long as a person is trustworthy, has basic health literacy skills, and is able to easily understand written and verbal communications, they should be able to take on the role of a health advocate.
There are also professional health advocates who might be hired by a healthcare organization or individual. Professional advocates do not need special training or licensing, but they usually have a background in the field of healthcare. Because there is no regulation on the healthcare advocacy field, it’s important for patients to choose a professional advocate with appropriate experience and references.
The Benefits of Health Advocacy
The benefits of health advocacy for patients are clear: with an advocate, patients can communicate more effectively with their providers, ensure that they are getting the care they need, and take care of administrative tasks that might be difficult or impossible for them to complete on their own.
There are benefits for healthcare providers, as well as patients. Working with an advocate as a liaison can help reduce misunderstandings. It can also help ensure that patients follow their provider’s directions in managing their health.
Advocates save time on both the patient’s side and the provider’s side. Doctors will need to spend less time explaining health information, allowing them to stay on schedule. Patients will have to wait less for their appointments, making the experience of going to the doctor less frustrating and more efficient.
Patients Who Might Need a Health Advocate
Older people often need the help of a health advocate. They might struggle to use the technology needed to make appointments, view test results, and submit paperwork. They might also struggle with mobility and other obstacles to getting proper care. As people get older, their health needs become increasingly complex and difficult to manage, so a health advocate can be a major asset.
People with complex health needs and those with conditions that affect cognition, communication, mobility, and other functions might also need a health advocate. People who do not speak the same language as their healthcare providers or have trouble navigating the healthcare system due to poor health literacy can benefit greatly from a health advocate.
Public Health Advocacy
Although individual advocates are extremely important for patient outcomes, public health advocacy is another critical activity for improving community health. Public health advocates primarily focus on healthcare access for underserved communities. Not only does this help create healthier communities, but it also helps increase trust in the healthcare system.
How Healthcare Professionals Can Help Boost Advocacy
Health advocacy is a win-win for healthcare professionals and their patients. But how can you, your colleagues, and organizational leaders help increase the role of advocacy within the industry? Here are some examples:
- Advocate for your patients as much as you can, which might mean confronting family members or calling a social worker
- Push for hiring professional advocates in your workplace
- Support social workers
- Be willing to work with patients’ personal advocates
Taking advocacy seriously isn’t difficult. All you have to do is recognize the challenges patients face and do what you can to help break down those barriers! And if more healthcare professionals start taking advocacy seriously, then we can look forward to a future with improved care and better patient outcomes
With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.