Private, professional patient advocacy is a new, non-certified practice
There is no diploma or degree programme offered in India to get certified as a patient-advocate. The profession is so young that there is no accrediting agency or licensing body that has developed standards for certifying the skills of patient advocates.
Even in other parts of the world, there are just a few “certificate” courses but no universally agreed-upon standards for certification. Further, since institutes offer different curricula, have different eligibility criteria for admission and follow different approaches to programme delivery (online or offline), the quality of their student output varies accordingly. For example, while Sarah Lawrence College (http://www.slc.edu/) in New York offers a Master’s level programme in health advocacy, Cleveland State University (http://www.csuohio.edu/) runs an online programme on patient advocacy, and both are in demand.
How to choose the right programme?
Begin with a need gap analysis – figure out what is needed in your skill-set to best serve your clients and then scout for a school or a programme that most effectively addresses that knowledge gap. Next, determine your budget. How much can you spend? The key is to weigh value against possibilities. Figure out how much you can spend by determining how easily you’ll be able to pay yourself back. If you are already employed somewhere, taking a long sabbatical to finish a one-year programme may not be practical. In that case, hunt for an online programme. You’ll find plenty of courses that answer your specific training needs. Maybe a short series of weekend courses would give you a better return on your investment.
If your means are limited, find out about scholarships, equated monthly installments (EMI)
schemes, discounts and other funding opportunities that would spread out your outflow over
a period of time.
Who makes a good patient advocate?
Generally, anyone with empathy makes for a good advocate. Advocates who assist elderly
patients and children need plenty of patience. Those who prefer to work with insurance and
billing clerks need to understand how these departments work and they must be good at
Good training will teach you how to…
Nurses, lawyers, medical assistants, medical billing clerks, retired doctors and counselors have
the right employment history and experience to be ideal candidates for this job. Some patient
advocates also specialise in health care reform, public education, and legislative matters.
Hospitals also provide in-house training to new recruits which is important, as patientadvocates
need to be knowledgeable about the systems and processes of their employer.
Patient-advocates need to wear many hats and master many skills.
If you don’t exemplify professionalism, how
will you be able to expect it of others? Make
sure you have a website that your patients can
log onto for all their health information needs.
The design, messaging and layout of your site
should be extremely simple and accessible to
lay patients. The navigation should be smooth
and the design must be uncluttered.
As smart phones are becoming more popular,
it’s essential to have a mobile version of your
website. Encourage patients to call you from
their smart phones to seek directions to your
office, schedule appointments or find out
about your services.
One of the best ways to secure the trust and
respect of your patients is to demonstrate to
them that you are an expert in your field. Display your loyal patients’ testimonials on your
website. Maintain a patient library or begin to run a blog so that patients come to you looking
for help, instead of Googling for information.
Build trust and loyalty
A happy patient should be treasured. She will be happy to sing your praises to others - and
word of mouth marketing is worth its weight in gold. Successful patient-advocates wield a lot
of clout. If you do well, hospitals will roll out a red carpet for you and doctors will treat you
(and your patients) as VIPs because you are a good source of patient referrals.
Be able to communicate
Patient advocates serve as liaisons between the patient and his family and doctors, nurses and
health insurance companies. You need to engage with a wide spectrum of people. You have to be an active listener and be able to present your patients’ concerns to the doctors in a
manner that gives them access to the right care.
Be well organised
Patient-advocates must be good record-keepers. You have to fix appointments and follow-up
with doctors, as well as maintain and update patient records in a timely fashion.
Be able to solve problems
A patient advocate’s job is challenging, but if you like tackling problems, the role can be
extremely satisfying. You need research skills and analytical abilities to master problem-solving
techniques, and should be able to sift through loads of information and keep yourself updated
all the time, much like investigative journalists.
You will need tons of patience, if you want to learn to protect yourself from burn-out.
Questions you should ask your trainer
Before you join an institute or enrol for a programme, it might be a good idea to ask your
99 What is the career path for patient advocates?
99 How long do they typically stay in their jobs?
99 What kind of training and educational programmes do you offer?
99 Are these courses certified?
99 How much would the programme cost and what would be its duration?
99 What do you cover in your content? Do you follow a case-study approach?
99 What are the most challenging aspects of patient advocacy?
99 What are the most engaging aspects of patient advocacy?
Since it’s a long-term investment that you are making in yourself, choose your programme
with care, and after doing in-depth research on the available options.
The truth is that the practice of patient advocacy, just like the practise of medicine, is
complicated; it is an art as well as a science. A good patient advocate is learning all the time. A
patient advocate masters her profession by investing years of training and experience, so that she can identify a problem; make the right decision; and react within a few minutes, till this
ability becomes nearly instinctual. When navigating the healthcare system, time can be critical,
hence the need for humility, experience and expertise.
As with any other profession, patient advocates need to follow a Code of Ethics. The following
principles are very useful as a guideline.
Objectivity: The role of the Professional Patient Advocate is to represent the patient
and family first and foremost, regardless of who employs them.
Scope of Practice: The Professional Patient Advocate must work within her scope of
practice. Other members of the healthcare team should be utilized as needed to meet
the demands of her patient.
Full disclosure of services, fees and length of time services will be performed:
The Professional Patient Advocate must provide to the patient and his family a document
that fully discloses her role and function, as well as the fees and services the patient
advocate will perform.
Confidentiality: A Professional Patient Advocate should obtain a consent that
authorizes the patient advocate to speak and act on behalf of the patient.
Promoting Autonomy: The Professional Patient Advocate’s role is to educate and
empower the patient to make informed decisions based on his individual wishes and in
keeping with his cultural, spiritual, religious and ethical beliefs.
Accountability: The Professional Patient Advocate is held accountable for the work
done on behalf of her patients.
Continuous Learning: The Professional Patient Advocate commits to continuous learning in order to keep up to date on clinical matters and with trends and advances that impact patient care.
The above is an extract from Dr.Aniruddha Malpani's book : Patient Advocacy - Giving Voice to Patients
The book launch will take place on Saturday, 16 November 2013 at Hall of Harmony, Nehru Center, Worl, Mumbai - 400018 during the 4th Annual Putting Patients First Conference.