When you are dealing with a serious medical condition, it can be difficult to manage it all yourself. There are new medical terms to learn, difficult decisions to make, complicated medication regimens to follow, and more. It’s tough to do this by yourself. In last week’s post, I covered the importance of appointing a health advocate to help you throughout your healthcare journey. You can ask a family member or friend to act as a personal health advocate, or you can hire a professional advocate. This post focuses on how to find a health advocate – I highly recommend you also read last week’s post: How Can a Health Advocate Help You?
Ready to find a health advocate?
Importantly, before choosing an advocate, identify your expectations, needs and concerns. Consider what kinds of tasks you think you would like help with. You can use the above lists of services provided by professionals to create a list of your own. For instance, do you want someone to take notes at appointments? Do you need someone to help you research treatment options? Do you want help making decisions? Refer to your list when you ask a friend or family member for help, or when you hire a professional.
Note there are also advocates who provide help with billing issues. However, this post focuses on those providing help with medical issues.
Thinking about a family member or friend as your advocate?
If you want a personal advocate, choose a family member or friend who is a clear thinker, a good decision maker, and organized. Additionally, look for someone who is politely assertive, comfortable being the squeaky wheel, and doesn’t shy away from asking questions.
Realize your personal health advocate will need access to your complete medical history. Therefore, when choosing a personal advocate, decide if you feel comfortable sharing your personal health information with any potential advocate.
Importantly, realize the vast majority of family/friend advocates lack the training and experience of professional advocates. If you are dealing with a serious medical condition, you should consider a professional advocate.
Thinking about hiring a professional advocate?
Importantly, realize there are no state licensing requirements or national accreditation program for patient advocates. However, the Patient Advocate Certification Board does offer certification tests for patient advocates. Needless to say, it’s important to do some research.
Your health insurance company may assign you a nurse case manager who can provide information and support. However, this may not give you the level of support you want or need. Additionally, some health insurance companies and/or employers cover the cost of third-party patient health advocates. Ask your human resources department, or your insurance company, about the availability of advocacy coverage. If partial or full coverage is provided, ask how to find an advocate covered by your plan.
If you need to find a health advocate on your own, the first thing you should do is ask your network for referrals. However, if you cannot get a personal recommendation from your doctor, a trusted friend or family member, research your options. Make a list of potential advocates and ask for references. And carefully evaluate any potential advocate’s experience and work history. You want someone who is capable, experienced, and easy to work with.
Interviewing potential advocates.
There are 2 important reasons to choose an advocate carefully. Firstly, they will be helping you with some of the most important considerations and decisions in your lifetime. Secondly, health advocates charge anywhere between $100 – $500 an hour, so you want to make sure you get the quality of services you pay for and need.
While evaluating potential candidates, consider their professional skill and their personality. You’ll be working with your advocate at a very tense time in your life, so finding someone with whom you can get along is important. Of course, your advocate doesn’t have to be your best friend, but you want someone who is easy to interact with and treats you with respect.
Below are questions to ask while evaluating candidates. Do not be shy about asking these important questions!
What is their work experience?
- Are they a nurse? Doctor? Social worker? What jobs did they hold before becoming an advocate? Where did they go to school? Where did they receive their training? Did they attend formal training programs for patient advocacy? Are they certified by the Patient Advocate Certification Board? How do they think their background makes them suitable for advocacy work?
- How many patients and families have they helped as an advocate? According to HealthCare Advocates’ Kevin Flynn, an established advocate should work on at least 25 medical cases each year.
What are the expected costs?
Ask about pricing – some agencies charge a membership fee, plus the advocate’s hourly rate. Additionally, find out about possible additional charges, such as travel-related fees. And ask for an estimate of how many hours he/she expects to work on your case, given your explanation of needs. Furthermore, inquire about the frequency and terms of billing. Do they send bills after services are provided or do they require a retainer at the start of the relationship? Will they refund any prepaid money if services are discontinued and if so, under what circumstances do they allow refunds?
Do they have the time and expertise you need?
- Share your list of tasks you need help with. How familiar are they with your particular medical condition? And ask them to share specific examples of how they helped patients and families with similar issues in the past.
- Ask if they have time to take your case.
- Find out their hours for routine services and availability for emergency needs.
- Ask if they provide a written care plan that details the issues to be addressed and describes how they will achieve each step. Is there an additional fee for this plan?
Ask for references.
Ask for written testimonials and for references from previous clients. Reach out to references and ask questions regarding their experience. However, similar to any other service provider, you can expect to only receive the names of happy customers.
How can you find a professional health advocate?
Several organizations provide lists of advocates, including:
- Patient Advocate Certification Board
- The ADVO Connection Directory – The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates
- National Association of Healthcare Advocacy
- Greater National Advocates
- Patient Advocate Foundation
If you can’t find a health advocate in your area on these lists, try searching the internet with the term “patient advocate” and the name of your city/town.
On a personal note, I recommend Stacey Batista, MD, owner of Sirona Health Advocates. Stacey’s expertise as an MD, combined with her personal experiences caring for family members with serious health conditions, allows her to provide compassionate, professional advocacy services.
As the relationship with your advocate begins, share your medical history, questions and concerns. If you have taken notes during prior doctor appointments (and hopefully you have!), share them with the advocate. Furthermore, consider sharing your login information for your electronic health records (EHRs) because this access will help your advocate review your appointment notes, see your test results, schedule appointments, order prescription refills, and even email your doctors with questions, or concerns.
Certainly, if you hire an advocate who isn’t working out, you can look for a new option.
Keep your doctors in the loop!
Whether you enlist a personal health advocate or hire a professional, share your advocate’s information with your medical team, and vice-versa. Importantly, make sure you provide permission for your doctors and other healthcare providers to share your medical information with your advocate. In other words, your doctors won’t be legally allowed to discuss your case with your advocate if you don’t provide permission ahead of time.
A ZaggoCare System makes navigating easier.
Whether you hire a professional advocate, use a personal advocate, or choose to manage your journey yourself, I suggest you purchase a ZaggoCare System. Why? Because our advice and organizational tools, available 24/7, will help you get the best care and outcome possible. It’s a great addition to the support you can receive from an advocate.
For more information, or to purchase a ZaggoCare, click here.
Read these posts for more information:
- Tips for Hospital Discharges.
- 10 Tips to Communicate Better with Doctors.
- Understanding Medical Information Is Harder Than Most Realize.
- How Can You Get the Best Healthcare? Actively Participate!
- Tips to Better Manage a Chronic Disease.
- How to Get the Medical Care You Want.