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Do I Need a Patient Advocate?

By Betsy Lee-Frye

Updated January 21, 2009

(LifeWire) - As you wade your way through cancer treatment decisions, family medical leave issues and insurance documents, you may begin to feel as though your cancer diagnosis has become a full-time job.

Although it's possible to handle the demands of life, work and family with cancer, you may feel that you need just a little bit of help.

What Is a Patient Advocate?

Simply put, patient advocates are professionals trained to represent patients.

According to National University, which offers a graduate certificate in Patient Advocacy, patient advocates "work to protect and enhance patients' rights and become agents of change in the healthcare system."

Patient advocates can help with many aspects of care, including the following:

  • Insurance appeals
  • Family medical leave (FMLA) qualifications
  • Transportation to treatment and doctor's visits
  • Authorization from insurance companies
  • Billing issues
  • Childcare during treatment and doctor's visits
  • Managing Social Security, Medicare and Medical and Disability Income applications

Patient advocates also provide support. This could mean researching your type of cancer and the treatment options available or even taking notes as the doctor provides information, so you can review the notes later.

Types of Patient Advocates

The services provided by a patient advocate vary greatly, depending on the type of patient advocate.

  • Hospital patient advocates: These individuals are hired by the hospital to represent patients on their campus. Hospital patient advocates will handle any complaints you have about the hospital staff and may serve as a liaison between you and your physicians, if necessary. Some hospitals will encourage you to ask for a patient advocate to "translate," if you are having trouble understanding the terminology your doctor uses. Hospital patient advocates are typically provided by the hospital at no cost to the patient.
  • Nonprofit patient advocates: These advocates are funded through nonprofit organizations and are usually available to offer assistance via telephone. The help provided varies greatly based upon the nonprofit group. Many organizations will provide services at no or low cost to the patient.
  • For-profit patient advocates: These patient advocates commonly work for a specific company. Services can range from assistance provided over the telephone to representatives sent out to the hospital. Costs associated with these businesses vary.
How Do I Find a Patient Advocate?
  • Hospital patient advocates: To find hospital patient advocates, simply ask your physician or nurse to point you in the direction of their offices.
  • Nonprofit patient advocates: Patient advocates through nonprofit organizations are a bit tougher to track down. Start by contacting The American Cancer Society. The society has compiled a wealth of information about services and organizations. You can also find advocates associated with your type of cancer. For example, the American Bar Association Commission of Women in the Profession created a legal resource for women with breast cancer. The program focuses on health insurance issues and gaining access to new treatment options. The National Marrow Donor Program has an Office of Patient Advocacy that assists patients going through transplant. The following associations can also provide assistance, the National Patient Safety Foundation, National Patient Advocate Foundation and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.
  • For-profit patient advocates: These companies, which offer more comprehensive services, can be found through Internet searches. The following are examples of national companies offering patient advocacy services: Health Advocate, Lynx Care and Patient Pal.

If you want a patient advocate to visit you, search your local directory assistance. Be sure to shop around before signing up with a particular service.

Do I Need a Patient Advocate?

As every individual, every cancer and every treatment plan is different, you are the only person who can decide what type of patient advocate is right for you.

Since a host of organizations provide free services to people with cancer, it can't hurt to seek out additional information. It could be that even one phone call could make your life with cancer seem a bit more manageable.


"Breast Cancer Legal Advocacy Initiative." abanet.org. Mar 2003. American Bar Association. 26 Sep 2008. <http://www.abanet.org/women/breastcancer.html>.

"Delegating Patient Tasks to Others: The Patient Advocate." cancer.org. 9 Apr 2001. American Cancer Society. 26 Sep 2008. <http://www.cancer.org/docroot/MIT/content/MIT_1_2X_Patient_Advocate.asp>.

"Graduate Certificate in Patient Advocacy." nu.edu. 29 Aug 2008. National University. 26 Sep 2008. <http://www.nu.edu/Academics/Schools/COLS/SocSci/Degrees/GCPatientAdvocacy.html>.

"Patient Advocacy Resources." library.uchc.edu. 19 Jun 2008. University of Connecticut. 26 Sep 2008. <http://library.uchc.edu/departm/hnet/advocacy.html>.

"The Office of Patient Advocacy." massgeneral.org. 2008. Massachusetts General Hospital. 26 Sep 2008. <http://www.massgeneral.org/visitor/advocacy.htm>.

"Understanding Your Disease and Treatment Options." marrow.org. 2008. National Marrow Donor Program. 26 Sep 2008. <http://www.marrow.org/PATIENT/index.html>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Betsy Lee-Frye is an independent journalist living in Kansas City, Mo. Her work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Kansas City Magazine and Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications.
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