Posted by: Jacqueline O'Doherty | May 18, 2010

Why do you need a Patient Advocate?

Welcome to my blog about patient advocacy.  Since this is my first posting, I thought I’d address what a Patient Advocate is and why they are needed.

Healthcare today is getting more complicated by the minute.  Different aspects of healthcare have become more fragmented, with different specialists for different diagnoses. Primary care doctors are overwhelmed with paperwork and short on time. Then you throw in the insurance issues, what is covered, what is not, who is in network, who is not.  Will home health be covered, long term care or rehabilitation?  Is the doctor in network, does the anesthesiologist even accept insurance?  No joke, I actually know someone who had major surgery and found out afterwards, (when they sent her a $5000.00 bill) that her anesthesiologists did not take any insurance. AT ALL! Despite the fact that the procedure had been pre-certified.  Amazing!!!  There are so many issues and obstacles to overcome in this maze we call our healthcare system. 

Patient advocacy is a fairly new field begun in response to the rapidly changing health care landscape.   Independent Patient Advocates work for the patient, not the doctor or hospital, but we can help both the doctor and the hospital by helping the patient become informed.


The Patient Advocate supports and empowers the patient and their families.  They make sure the patient is aware of all the options available to them, they research disease and illness, they assist in obtaining physicians and homecare…nurses and home health aides, physical therapist and occupational therapists.  Patient Advocates research and facilitate short and long term care options and rehabilitation.


The concept of patient advocacy focuses on patient and family centered care.  That means the priority in  healthcare are the needs of the patient and their family.  All aspects of care from physicians, nurses, therapist, social worker, etc as well as the medical facility administration, work in a concentric circle with the patient at the center. The Patient Advocate is the one who drives this bus, coordinating all the various activities and ensuring the patient’s needs are fully met.  The Patient Advocate, also known as a Healthcare Advocate, coordinates the care between the different healthcare providers and facilitates communication across the medical continuum.

Why would you need a Patient Advocate?

There are many hats Patient Advocates wear. I will cover different aspects in each blog.  We’ll start with the initial diagnosis of illness.

Everyone at some point gets sick.  Some people get very sick.  Anyone familiar with a new diagnosis knows it can be overwhelming.  You leave the doctor’s office with your head spinning and only later do you wish you had asked a question.  Or, you don’t quite remember exactly what was said, because there was so much information coming at you all at once.   With a Patient Advocate, you come prepared with the list of questions that need to be asked.  The Patient Advocate listens, clarifies, probes and follows up giving you the ability to make informed decisions about treatment.  

Patient Advocates research disease and specialists and make sure you understand all of your medical options.  A patient can only give informed consent when they have the tools to make educated decisions.   Our healthcare system is complex and confusing.  Being newly diagnosed with an illness can be overwhelming and scary. Grappling with the stress of illness is difficult enough. Don’t navigate the healthcare system alone.



  1. Very informative! Good work.

  2. Great piece. Keep it coming.

  3. This is fantastic! I spent many long hours last year and this year trying to navigate through the health care system with my father due to multiple complicating illnesses and chronic conditions. As many of us have aging parents your services are certain to be welcomed, if nothing else to save on time but also the emotional expense of trying to cope with it all.

    You’re serving an important role in the lives of many families!


  4. Thanks Kim… taking care of your kids and then overseeing your parent’s healthcare can become overwhelming.
    I’ll be addressing the issues of the sandwich generation in a later blog.

  5. This is a very informative piece. I hope to be talking to you soon.

  6. Jackie,

    I have spent the last 20 years in the field of Human Resources. Not only are we are dealing with a muliti-generational workforce but with the “Baby Boomer” generation retiring from the workforce and needing additional medical help, advice and coordination. Your ability to offer patient advocate services that takes the burden off of the families is tremendous. When you have an ailing family member it is simply overwhelming with all the issues that need to be addressed. I believe that we’ll need more and more of your services over the next decade and then some. Thanks for doing what you do!


  7. Great information! I have started a service business in Minneapolis area dedicated to advocating for hospitalized patients when they or their family are unable to do so. I have been hospitalized myself on several occasions and have first hand knowledge as to the need for, what you have called, the “person who drives the bus”. Thanks so much for the blog, I look forward to participating.

  8. Thanks for the comment Diane, I look forward to having you participate as well!

  9. You’ve explained what a Patient Advocate does better than the NY Times and most other articles I’ve seen. Patient Advocacy is about understanding and representing the patient’s wishes. Patient Advocacy is not a new field. I have held that title for over 30 years. I started my company to work with Unions and other organizations, whose primary role is quality of life issues. We help people who are losing their jobs because they are taking too much time from work due to health or caregiver responsibilities. In 1995, we expanded into the senior market. It is a very rewarding feeling to help people change a miserable situation into an empowering one.

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