Patients ask whether there is such a thing as a certification or credential to help them identify an effective patient advocate.
People interested in becoming a patient or health advocate ask whether there is an accreditation body that will certify or credential them as patients' advocates.
The answers are no, and no. There is no one, objective accrediting group that has developed standards for certifying the skills of patient advocates.
Most health professionals are licensed and certified by a government or a certification body. For example, doctors must complete medical school, take exams, and be licensed by the state they practice in. Then, to better establish their expertise, they may apply for, and prove their worth, to become "board certified" within their specialty areas. Hospitals, too, are reviewed and certified, or accredited, by the Joint Commission. Nurses, nurse practitioners and other health professions have similar licensing and credentialing requirements and opportunities.
But private, professional patient advocacy is too new. There exists no accreditation organization or licensing body for patients' advocates.
Some Groups Claim to Certify Patient Advocates
There are several educational groups that will "certify" patient advocates who have graduated from their individual programs. However, each of these groups has different requirements for admission, each has a separate approach to educating health advocates, and because there is no universally agreed upon standard for certification, advocates earning the certifications assigned by these groups cannot be considered to have the same sets of skills, nor can we conclude anything about the quality of their capabilities.
For example, some programs admit only registered nurses, then teach them the skills needed to be patient advocates. Other programs require only payment of an admission fee, then completion of their courses. Both programs are actually very good, and their graduates come away with great training for doing patient advocacy work. However, since their students have started in different places (some as physicians or nurses, others with no medical background at all) and since their coursework is different throughout their programs, there is no way we can compare "certifications" among those programs. There are no standards to compare them to.
Should you choose to attend one of these patient advocacy programs, you will get a good education, and you will develop patient advocacy skills. At the end, you may earn a certificate or a degree, but you won't be "certified" in the sense that a government or other outside, objective, standards-based body has guaranteed you have achieved a certain level of skill.
Does More Education Always Lead to Better Patient Advocating?
Not necessarily. Since there are so many types of advocacy, and since there are so many advocacy business models, an extended medical education may or may not be the best background for the patient advocate you need. An MD has an extended medical education, but if you need help sorting out your medical bills, or if you simply need someone to research treatment options for you, then you may not need someone who has earned an MD to help you. Further, you may not want to pay the higher prices an MD might command for those services.
It is important to note, however, that there are many forms of patient advocacy education that are excellent, teaching potential advocates how to find the right resources for their clients and how to follow advocacy ethics and best practices. (If you are considering becoming a patient advocate, you may want to take these aspects into account when you choose the best program or courses for your own needs.)
Is Patient Advocacy Certification on the Horizon?
Yes - an accrediting organization for patient advocates will develop some day. It will establish a set of standards and ethics patient advocates must adhere to in order to be certified.
But as of early 2012, such a body does not exist. Of course, that makes it imperative that patients or their caregivers know the best approach for hiring a good patient advocate.