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How to Find, Interview and Choose a Patient Advocate

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Updated May 23, 2012

A true patient advocate is difficult to find. Finding one who has the experience and skills you need will be even harder.

Volunteers can be wonderful, and the price may be right, but they often don't have the experience you need to be sure you're getting the best care you can get.

Your best bet will be to find a private patient advocate.  These advocates charge a fee for their services, but they are definitely worth the cost, even if it's only for the confidence you will have about getting the best care.

Here is some basic information about finding, interviewing and choosing a private patient advocate.

Locate a patient advocate.

While private patient advocacy is a growing career, patient advocates are still not easy to find. 

One website, AdvoConnection, provides a searchable directory of advocates who offer a variety of kinds of help to patients and caregivers, such as medical, hospital bedside assistance, insurance denials or claims, billing reviews and more. Search for an advocate by the location of the patient and the service you need.  There is no charge to use the site.

Another website offers a list of advocates who belong to an organization called NAHAC, the National Association of Health Advocacy Consultants. Use of this site is also free.

If you just cannot find the name and contact information of an advocate on either list, do a web search using "patient advocate" and your location.

Prepare to interview the potential patient advocate.

Once you have found one or more names and contact information for patient advocates, you'll need to contact each of them to get a sense of whether they can help you, what the process will entail, and how much their services will cost.

There are no "standard" fees or standard procedures because, of course, every patient is unique and every case is different.  That said, they should be able to give you satisfactory answers to the following questions:

Ask: Have you handled other cases similiar to mine before?

It will be important to you to develop a rapport with your chosen advocate, to have confidence in her abilities, to trust her to collaborate with others involved in your care, and help you understand your options. As you ask these questions, you'll be able to tell whether she fits your needs.

Her previous experience working with patients with similar ailments, or in similar circumstances to yours will be a good indicator of whether you'll be able to develop that confidence level.

Ask: What are your credentials?

Do you have background or training in the services I need?

You'll want to determine what advocacy services you need the advocate to help you with. Some advocates specialize in helping you understand your diagnosis or treatment recommendations, while others can help you get permission from your insurer for special tests or treatments, or even get your hospital billing straightened out. You'll want to find an advocate who has experience performing those services you need.

You should be aware that there is no nationally recognized credential for patient advocates. There are a handful of certificate programs advocates may take, but even those graduates are not "certified" in the classic, nationally recognized sense. If you find a patient advocate who claims she is certified, ask her about her certification. If she claims it is a national type of certification then think twice about hiring her.

Ask: What do you charge for your services?

Charges for services will vary according to the types of services needed, the location of the patient (pricing varies across the country, just like it does for anything else) and how much time the advocate will spend doing the work that needs to be done.

Advocates may charge for doing health assessments, time spent on research, review of bills, handling insurance claims or even getting tests or treatments approved (overcoming denials) and more.

Ask: How long will it take to perform the services I need?

In particular if the advocate charges by the hour, you'll need an idea of how long a service will take to perform.  You are likely to get a range of hours and a range of total costs.

Ask: Do you have time to handle the work I need to have done?

Just because the advocate can help you, doesn't mean she has time in her schedule to accommodate your services.

Ask: Do you have references?

This is perhaps the most important of all the interview questions. References are vital. For privacy purposes, the advocate may be reluctant to provide you with names and contact information. If so, ask her to provide your name and contact information to other patients who would be willing to speak to her abilities. Make sure you ask the references what types of services she provided, how well she provided them, and whether they would hire her again if they needed advocate services.

Here are some additional, optional questions you'll want to ask if your circumstances make them important:

Ask: Are you on call 24/7? Or do you have specific hours?

If you need someone to stay with the patient overnight, this will be important. Some advocacy services such as medical bill reconciliations or legal services won't require 24/7 availability.

Ask: Where are you located?

Similar to the 24/7 question, location may, or may not, be important. If your advocate needs to be on call, perhaps to accompany a patient to the doctor's office, or in case of an emergency, then location will be important.

Ask: Do you provide written reports about the services you have provided?

Similar to the other optional questions, reports may not be necessary. If you are hiring an advocate for someone who is out of town (like a child hiring someone to care for a parent who lives elsewhere), then you will want reports. If you are visiting with the advocate every day, then these types of reports may not be necessary. Further, if there is a charge for them, You'll need to decide whether that's an additional service you do or don't want to pay for.

Once you've made your choice for an advocate, ask her to put the answers to these questions in writing, along with a signed contract to be sure you agree on what is expected.

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