What is a Patient Advocate?

Patient advocates support and promote patients' rights as they navigate the health care system.

Whether or not you are ill, managing your health can be confusing and overwhelming. And when things go wrong, it can be hard to get your voice heard by the health care professionals around you. Health care providers and administrators do not intend to make things difficult for patients, but the system is so complicated that there is not much time for compassion and understanding.

A patient advocate can guide you through the confusing maze of health care with caring and sensitivity. (S)he can focus exclusively on your needs and help you resolve concerns about the quality of your care, get the care you need, and ensure that your voice is heard and that you are included in decision-making.

Patient advocates can be found at hospitals, and in non-profit and for-profit organizations. Some work independently.

At Hospitals

The patient advocates at hospitals are employed by the institution to assist patients receiving care there. In general, they handle complaints that you have about your treatment or health care providers. They are employed by the hospital at no cost to you. They are usually part of a patient advocate department. Ask your health care provider for their location and phone number.

Non-profit Patient Advocates

Non-profit patient advocates can be found at organizations such as Health Care for All, the organization behind this guide. The assistance is given by phone and is free. State and federal organizations can point you in the direction of certain patient advocacy groups; you can find many of them through a search on the Internet. There are many organizations that focus on specific diseases or conditions and can help identify “specialized" advocates. For example, the American Cancer Society can connect cancer patients with advocates who are familiar with cancer-related resources.

For-profit (Employer-based) Advocates

For-profit patient advocates are part of a health care company that usually contracts with employers, usually at no cost to you. Your workplace may offer an “employee assistance program" that can help you with health care issues. The services vary and are often provided over the phone. Some organizations have care managers that can meet with you and your health care providers.

Independent Advocates

Finally, there are a few private, independent patient advocates who work closely with patients on a variety of issues concerning health care. Their fees vary and sometimes they offer a sliding fee, based on ability to pay. One way to find an independent advocate is to ask your friends, co-workers, and health care providers for a referral. The Internet can be helpful in finding the names of advocates in your city or state.

Information about Massachusetts hospitals | What is a Patient Advocate? | Writing Complaint Letters