The Importance of Health Advocacy to Improve Healthcare
What is health advocacy?
- Helping patients deal with clinicians and healthcare professionals in diverse settings
- Providing patients with guidance based on their conditions and treatment options
- Supporting patients with health insurance processes, including filing claims and preparing necessary forms
- Older adults: Health advocates accompany older patients during appointments to talk with doctors, take notes, and manage medical bills. They can also assist with preventive medical care, managing daily medications, and promoting activities that can improve a patient’s quality of life at home. The increasing use of digital technologies in healthcare can be a barrier to older adults’ engagement with the healthcare system. A health advocate can help older adults with that burden by logging in to patient portals to review diagnostic test results, scheduling appointments online, and renewing prescriptions.
- Patients with dementia: Dementia triggers a decline in a patient’s cognitive abilities and memory. Health advocates can help patients with reminders for bathing, taking medication, and performing other routines. In healthcare settings, patients with dementia may not understand their surroundings. For example, they may forget that they have mobility issues. With declined thinking and perception abilities, patients with dementia may become anxious and uncooperative, refusing to receive treatment or pulling out their IVs. Health advocates can help patients with dementia become familiar with their surroundings or feel comfortable. An advocate can also communicate with nurses, informing them of a patient’s preferences, capabilities, and potential responses to care.
- Hospitalized patients: Hospitals typically have patient advocates on staff to help patients and their families deal with a hospital stay. A hospital advocate ensures that patients are informed of their conditions. If patients are incapacitated, the hospital advocate communicates their condition to their families or guardians. Administratively, hospital advocates help patients secure copies of their medical records, understand hospital bills, and complete forms. When treatment or information is delayed, a health advocate can ask the nursing staff for help. In general, health advocates provide comfort to patients and their families during their hospital stay.
What is public health advocacy?
- Increasing awareness of issues that impact people’s ability to access affordable, effective, high-quality healthcare
- Influencing decisions at the highest levels of government to help shape public policy
- Raising funds to support public health programs, including research and information-sharing campaigns
Resources: Organizations that advocate for public health
- American Public Health Association: The APHA coordinates with state and regional affiliates to help shape public policy around access to care, funding for public health programs, and more. Individuals can find guides on how to engage policymakers, reports, and fact sheets.
- American Cancer Society: The ACS’s primary aim is to make cancer a top priority through evidence-based policy and legislative solutions, such as helping pass laws requiring insurance companies to cover cancer screenings.
- American Heart Association: The AHA offers fact sheets, guides, and other informational resources on a wide range of public health issues related to heart health, from access to care and healthy food to acute care and tobacco and clean air.
- Alzheimer’s Association: The Alzheimer’s Association grew from 24 people in 2010 to more than 500 grassroots volunteers who engage with members of Congress to influence federal policy around Alzheimer’s disease. Their efforts have helped increase federal funding for Alzheimer’s research sevenfold since 2011 — now at $3.1 billion.
- Institute for Healthcare Improvement: The IHI promotes safety and transparency in healthcare. Public advocacy efforts include engaging leaders to embrace innovation to ensure safety throughout the patient journey.
- National Patient Advocate Foundation: NPAF leverages its policy thought leadership platform to help protect individuals with chronic and life-threatening diseases. The foundation focuses on improving transparency, reducing medical debt, and improving access to care.
- Empowered Patient Coalition: As a consumer- and advocate-led nonprofit, the Empowered Patient Coalition promotes patient advocacy and healthcare safety, focusing on patient rights, reducing medical errors and adverse events, and promoting patient safety education.
Who can be considered a health advocate?
- Taking notes and helping patients clarify the details of a doctor’s appointment
- Helping answer questions from doctors about a patient, such as describing the patient’s usual condition
- Asking questions about medication side effects and follow-up appointments
- Expressing concerns and communicating the patient’s wishes
- Answering patients’ questions about treatments, medications, and diagnostic test results
- Negotiating payment of healthcare services and arrangements with providers
- Coordinating care among multiple providers
Resources: Organizations that help patients find health advocates
- Health Advocate: The Health Advocate organization provides a wide range of health advocate services encompassing wellness coaches, social workers, nurses, benefits claim specialists, and medical directors.
- National Association of Healthcare Advocacy: Advocates from the NAHAC include medical professionals, consumer advocates, researchers, policymakers, and individuals from the public.
- Patient Advocate Foundation: Nancy Davenport-Ennis founded both the PAF and the National Patient Advocate Foundation (NPAF) in 1994. While NPAF focuses on influencing public policy, PAF provides advocacy resources to patients.
- PatientPAL: PatientPAL’s advocacy services include support for claims negotiations and help to guide patients with chronic conditions through the complexities of the health system.
- PinnacleCare: PinnacleCare offers personalized healthcare services for individuals and families; it also serves groups, employers, and organizations interested in giving their employees access to health advocacy
- Pulse Center for Patient Safety Education & Advocacy: Pulse CPSEA provides patient advocacy support and offers training programs to prepare patients’ friends and families to become health advocate
- The AdvoConnection Directory: The AdvoConnection Directory is for patients in the U.S. and Canada seeking patient advocacy services.
- The Karis Group: The Karis Group offers health systems navigation solutions, such as bill negotiation, access to telemedicine services, and second-opinion services that connect patients with doctors.
How health advocacy improves patient outcomes
The importance of communication in healthcare
- “Patients need to be able to convey information about their health complaints to healthcare workers.”
- “Healthcare workers must be able to adequately comprehend and interpret the information in order to treat health complaints appropriately.”
- “In order to decrease the risk of health complaints from recurring, healthcare workers must convey adequate information to patients to help them take preventive measures in order to maintain their health.”
How health advocacy addresses communication challenges
Preparing for appointments
Overseeing prescription routines
Encouraging healthy lifestyles
Dealing with physicians and clinicians
Understanding patients’ conditions and treatment options
- Interpreting medical terminology so patients get a clearer picture of a diagnosis
- Providing comfort and emotional support