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Becoming a Patient Advocate

Earlier this year, on my podcast I talked about elderly care and how physicians could become experts in that space. In this article, I’ll discuss becoming a patient advocate as an alternative career in healthcare.

The Career of a Patient Advocate

Before I define this for you, I encourage you to think of a scenario in which you’d likely want a patient advocate if you weren’t a physician.

Even CMS.org has some information on being a patient advocate.

Perhaps you have an elderly parent or a child with major medical issues. Maybe you’re trying to navigate your own chronic disease diagnosis or battling a hospital group coming after you for bills.

Necessary Skills

A patient advocate needs to understand the healthcare system, know how to communicate with clinicians and understand the basics of billing.

In a way, you are a problem solver, but most importantly, you translate medicalese into something more comprehensible.

Income Potential

Who would pay you if you are a patient advocate? Perhaps the individual with the healthcare issue, but just as often, you can offer your services to self-funded health plans or health sharing organizations.

If you are running a solo practice, you likely can earn in the $80,000 – $150,000 range working for yourself.

With a few people under you, perhaps you can earn in the mid $200,000s.

Examples of Patient Advocacy

Below I’ve listed a few examples, and perhaps you can share some other ones in the comment section. I’m sure there are endless examples of patient advocacy.

1. Battling an Insurance Company

Debt collectors and insurance companies will bully individuals who don’t have the clinical knowledge to defend themselves.

A patient advocate can help patients negotiate bills and get certain treatments approved which may otherwise be denied.

GoodBill is such a company.

Understanding billing practices is helpful here, and being willing to go back and forth in written format is necessary.

2. End-of-Life Planning

When elderly parents are facing end-of-life planning, especially when there are large fortunes involved, it’s difficult to know how to make sound decisions.

As a patient advocate, I help the couple or individual decide which clinical interventions are most likely needed and which aren’t worth planning for.

3. Disease Planning

Complex care is something I’ve discussed before and it relates here to disease planning. Imagine a person with ALS, MS, or and oncological diagnosis.

Everything from end-of-life planning to employment and retirement decisions is on the table here.

The role of a patient advocate is to help the person understand what to expect around the corner and how to plan their life around a particular medical condition.

4. Coordinating Care Abroad

Some families will move with dependents who have complex or chronic medical conditions, or they might be newly diagnosed with a condition managed abroad.

The patient advocate helps the person make the best use of local resources based on standards of care in a country like the US.

5. Transferring Complex Care

If a person has to move from one state to another or change insurance, then they’ll need their complex care transferred.

A patient advocate would offer a white-glove or warm handoff to ensure no gaps in care.

6. Managing Inpatient Care

The inpatient world is a chaotic place to find yourself in. I can’t imagine navigating a complex medical condition – or a simple one, for that matter – without a patient advocate or clinical coordinator.

From medical errors to insurance denials, a lot happens behind the scenes, which impacts the patient’s overall quality of care. None of that would be hidden from view when you’re the patient’s advocate.

7. Managing an ICU Patient

Imagine a chaplain but the medical version of it. Helping the patient and, more importantly, the family cope and navigate a complex health issue in the ICU is a timely matter and has a lot of pertinent consequences.

8. Getting a Second Medical Opinion

There are many second medical opinion companies out there, and I haven’t encountered any that are doing it right. Most are insurance or hospital-affiliated.

A patient advocate with a large network of specialists can create a powerful second medical opinion site for patients who are facing serious diagnoses.

There are established rules for offering second medical opinions virtually as a patient advocate.

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