Living with Chronic Pain
What Is Patient Advocacy?
Patient advocacy is defined as protecting the interest of a patient through various means, including defending their rights, protecting them against inadequate health care, providing support (e.g., financial, legal, emotional, etc.), and contributing to health care decision-making. A patient advocate may also provide caretaking, assist in the navigation of the health care system, and promote patient protection.
Patient advocacy occurs in a variety of settings. Examples include the following:
- Medical staff
The role of nurses, social workers, and chaplains naturally lends itself to patient advocacy. For example, nurses often provide patient advocacy in direct health care settings (e.g., informing a patient of their rights, campaigning for a vulnerable patient who is unable to defend their rights, etc.). Social workers provide resources for various issues, such as behavior health challenges, chronic health conditions, and addictions. Chaplains are available to help with emotional and spiritual support.
- Professional patient advocates
Oftentimes, hospitals employ professional patient advocates. Patients and family members can contact a patient advocate staff member concerning health care issues or other questions and concerns, such as billing issues.
Independent patient advocates
Patients can hire professional patient advocates that are not associated with a hospital or health care system. Using their knowledge and health care expertise, professional patient advocates work directly with the patient. Patient support helps ensure a more positive health care experience.
Patient advocacy also occurs outside of direct health care settings. For example, groups that develop or implement policies or laws that improve health care processes are considered patient advocates. Examples include government agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and non-profit groups, such as the National Patient Safety Foundation or the American Cancer Society.
A patient can also be their own advocate by identifying their individual needs, setting personal goals, and sharing their concerns with their physicians. Self-advocacy builds confidence and helps to ensure patients make informed health care decisions.