Ahead of the Curve: Patient Advocate

A guiding light through the fog of the American healthcare system.


Patient Advocate. Even Christopher Columbus would have had a tough time navigating the tricky waters of the U.S. healthcare system, and most people, especially when ill, aren't the best navigators. Enter patient advocates. They help ensure that the patient gets to see the right specialist. They do Internet research so the patient is better informed when talking to the doctor. They educate family members on how to support the patient during a hospital stay, such as ensuring that the pills really are meant for him or her. And they sort through the mountains of bills and, if necessary, negotiate fees with the healthcare provider, insurance company, or other payer. ("Medicare, how dare you refuse to pay for that surgery?!")

The confluence of aging boomers with a more complex, cost-conscious healthcare system means unlimited demand for a persuasive, persistent person willing to do the vital work of patient advocacy. Some hospitals, insurers, and disease-specific advocacy organizations hire nurses and social workers as patient advocates, but there remains a huge unmet need, which may be filled by self-employed advocates.

Learn more: Becoming a Patient Advocate and Hospital Stay Handbook: A Guide to Becoming a Patient Advocate for Your Loved Ones by Jari Holland Buck.