Health advocate is a designated clinical consultant, who organizes a wide variety of health care-related support and educational services to maintain, improve, and manage health of a patient or a client. Clinical health advocates are generally nurses, doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners that have had some experience in the healthcare field or a specialty. There are health advocates who are social workers with an experience in the health care setting. Although most health advocates are clinicians, health advocates can also be non medical professionals who may have had a personal lengthy experience with a condition or may have helped a love one suffering from a certain health condition.
Health advocate will assist client/patient navigate the healthcare system to address any health care needs. Health Advocate can help patient/client with learning about their health benefits, programs, and resources. Advocate can prevent illness or adverse outcome for a patient/client by identifying health risks early. Experienced medical health advocates can effectively help a patient/client manage his/her healthcare by removing obstacles, providing timely access to care, delivering personalized care and promoting safe/quality outcomes.
Health Advocate provides health advocacy to a patient/client in all stages of their health continuum.
• Acute health care issues
• Co-Morbid Issues
• Chronic Conditions
• Complex Catastrophic Issues
• Healthcare Quality Issues
• Healthcare Resources
• Special benefits/programs
• Insurance Issues
• Prescription plan
• Doctors or Specialist
• Hospital or Facility
• Ancillary Provider
• Second Opinions
• Discharge from Facility
• Family or Loved Ones
• Doctor or Specialist
• Ancillary Providers
• Family or Loved Ones Negotiate
• Out of Network Charges
• Level of Care
• Insurance terms
• Disease process
• Preventive Health
• Test, Treatment, & Drugs Review
• Plan Benefits
• Community resource
• Employer resources
• Communication tools
• Research on condition/diagnosis
• Center of Excellence
• Doctors and Hospitals
• Ancillary Services
A separate and identifiable field of health advocacy grew out of the patient rights movement of the 1970s. This was clearly a period in which a “rights-based” approach provided the foundation of much social action. The initial “inspiration” for a “patient bill of rights” came from an advocacy organization, the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). In 1970, the NWRO list of patients’ rights was incorporated into the Joint Commission’s accreditation standards for hospitals, and, interestingly, reprinted and distributed by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective—authors of Our Bodies, Ourselves—as part of their women’s health education program. The preamble to the NWRO document became the basis for the Patient Bill of Rights adopted by the American Hospital Association in 1972.
Patient advocacy, as a hospital-based practice, grew out of this patient rights movement: patient advocates (often called patient representatives) were needed to protect and enhance the rights of patients at a time when hospital stays were long and acute conditions—heart disease, stroke and cancer—contributed to the boom in hospital growth. Health care reformers at the time critiqued this growth by quoting Roemer’s Law: a built hospital bed is a bed likely to be filled. And more radical health analysts coined the term “health empires” to refer to the increasing power of these large teaching institutions that linked hospital care with medical education, putting one in the service of the other, arguably losing the patient-centered focus in the process. It was not surprising, then, that patient advocacy, like patient care, focused on the hospital stay, while health advocacy took a more critical perspective of a health care system in which power was concentrated on the top in large medical teaching centers and a dominance of the medical profession.
The field of health advocacy also has deeper roots in the voluntary organization sector of society, where the early health advocates were more typically advocating for a cause, not for an individual. These health advocates preceded hospital-based patient advocates and are part of a long history of American involvement in social organizations. They were activists in social movements and voluntary associations including civic organizations, women’s associations and labor organizations, and in the early disease-specific non-profits like the American Cancer Society (founded as the American Society for the Control of Cancer in 1913) or the March of Dimes (founded as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis in 1938). In the early part of the 20th century these advocates came to their work through other professional routes, often as social workers, attorneys, public health nurses or doctors. They were the Progressive era “new women” of Hull House and the Children’s Bureau, the American Association for Labor Legislation leaders of the movement in 1919 for national health insurance, the nurses who worked with Lillian Wald to advocate for indigent health care through Visiting Nurse Services (1893), or with theMaternity Center Association (1918) to advocate for maternal and infant care for poor immigrants. They obtained their professional education in other disciplines and then applied it to health.
Health advocacy also has 20th century roots in community organizing around health hazards in the environment and in the workplace. The Love Canal Homeowners Association, for example, was founded in 1978 by Lois Gibbs and others concerned about the high rate of cancer and birth defects in the community. These grass roots advocates often begin with a concern about perceived “clusters” of disease. The Newtown Florist Club on the south side of Gainesville, Georgia was founded by women who pooled their money to buy wreaths for funerals in their community; in the 1980s they began to recognize that there were “far too many deaths due to cancer and lupus in the neighborhood. ‘That put us on a wonder,'” said one resident, and now their advocacy includes toxic tours of the community. Health disparities and issues of environmental justice are often the focus of advocacy for low income and minority urban residents, and like West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT), their advocacy for environmental justice encompasses health concerns.
In developing nations, groups such as Blue Veins may face additional difficulties getting their messages out.
Recently disease specific advocacy and environmental health advocacy have come together, most noticeably in the adoption by advocates of the “precautionary principle”. Somebreast cancer advocacy groups in particular, argue that “prevention is the cure”, when it comes to untested exposures that could be carcinogenic. Rachel’s News is one example of such combined environmental and health advocacy information.
In the early 1990s Healthcare Advocates, Inc. determined that lobbyists (advocates) were helping the masses, but there were no organizations helping patients, one patient at a time. They developed a new model of advocacy that allowed patients to access the services directly thereby resolving the issues associated with access to care and reimbursement through their employers.
By 2007, it was recognized that outreach to most patients who would need personal assistance from health advocates would have to come from the private sector. Individuals, some with backgrounds such as nursing or case management, and others who had experience helping loved ones or friend navigate the healthcare system, began establishing private practices to provide those services to client-patients. A new organization, The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, was founded to support those new private advocates, plus those considering such a career, with legal, insurance, marketing and other business advice.
The Visiting Nurse Associations of America (VNAA) is also a nonprofit association which is a health advocate for its nonprofit visiting nurse agencies and homehealth providers. The VNAA related to DC from Boston in 2008 to be able to be a strong health advocate for its members.
Health advocacy encompasses direct service to the individual or family as well as activities that promote health and access to health care in communities and the larger public. Advocates support and promote the rights of the patient in the health care arena, help build capacity to improve community health and enhance health policy initiatives focused on available, safe and quality care. Health Advocates are suited best to address challenge of patient-centered care in our complex healthcare system. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) defines patient-centered care as: Health care that establishes a partnership among practitioners, patients, and their families (when appropriate) to ensure that decisions respect patients’ wants, needs, and preferences and that patients have the education and support they need to make decisions and participate in their own care. Patient-centered care is also one of the overreaching goals of health advocacy, in addition to safer medical systems, and greater patient involvement in healthcare delivery and design.
Patient representatives, ombudsmen, educators, care managers, patient navigators and health advisers are health advocates who work in direct patient care environments, including hospitals, community health centers, long term care facilities or patient services programs of non-profit organizations. They collaborate with other health care providers to mediate conflict and facilitate positive change, and as educators and health information specialists, advocates work to empower others.
In the policy arenas health advocates work for positive change in the health care system, improved access to quality care, protection and enhancement of patient’s rights from positions in government agencies, disease-specific voluntary associations, grassroots and national health policy organizations and the media.
There may be a distinction between patient advocates, who work specifically with or on behalf of individual patients and families, or in disease-specific voluntary associations, and health advocates, whose work is more focused on communities, policies or the system as a whole. Often, however, the terms “patient advocate” and “health advocate” are used interchangeably or depending on immediate context.
Rapidly growing areas of health advocacy include advocates in clinical research settings, particularly those focused on protecting the human subjects of medical research, advocates in the many disease-specific associations, particularly those centered on genetic disorders or widespread chronic conditions, and advocates who serve clients in private practice, alone or in larger companies.