As patient advocacy businesses become more plentiful and are more visible to the public, questions arise as to how their services differ from those of nurses and social workers. Patients and their loved ones, as well as health care providers, need to understand the unique niche that patient advocates inhabit in order to understand exactly when it is appropriate to call on them for assistance.
There’s no doubt that at present, there is some overlap between the professions, as patient advocates continue to carve out their unique place in the health care delivery model. There’s also quite a bit of variability in terms of what individual service providers offer, so it’s hard to draw hard and fast lines between professions. However, patient advocates are most definitely emerging as a new kind of patient expert, and there are some general characteristics that distinguish them from other care providers.
To put it in a somewhat simply, patient advocates are patient experts who assist people dealing with a medical crisis by helping them to make good decisions, personalize their care, and use the health care system to their best advantage. They help patients to take an initial step back upon diagnosis so as to make sound decisions going forward. Once those decisions are made they help their clients identify options for getting their treatment in a way that works best for them medically, financially, and practically.
Patient advocates are often by a patient’s side throughout treatment, both at the medical visit and in the hospital. They are active in ensuring that a patient can comfortably navigate the difficult medical system. They focus on qualities such as engagement and empowerment, and they are concerned with ensuring that a patient feels prepared, informed and engaged with the medical process. In short, patient advocates ensure that the patient is at the center of the entire treatment process.
Nurse case managers focus on the more clinical aspects of treatment: they are concerned with lab values, medications, and treatment plans. They are often the ones who are involved in the nitty-gritty, clinical aspects of treatment, and can be the medical liaison between the physician and the patient. Care managers and/or social workers are primarily concerned with the implementation of the care plan, and their focus is logistical. They are often the ones to identify outside referral sources, to coordinate services and to identify community resources. Nurse case managers and care managers are both valuable partners not only to the patient but also to the advocate. They ensure that the patient gets all the treatment and services necessary.
Companies like Pathfinders Medical are unique in that we recognize the value of the each of these health care professionals, and we employ not only patient advocates, but case managers and care coordinators who work together to provide the spectrum of care that our clients deserve. We don’t identify a specific population for our services, but rather focus on the skills that are always critical for anyone who is challenged by a medical crisis.