What is meant by health advocacy? The healthcare system can be challenging to navigate at the best of times. Most people regardless of age, education or background need help managing this burdensome system. Health advocacy encompasses many things including finding the care that is needed, understanding best practices, and knowing what and who to ask. Health advocates range from friends or family members accompanying a loved one to a medical appointment to a “patient advocate,” a healthcare professional who is hired to provide these services.
Health Advocacy Improves Patient Care
Health advocates can greatly improve a patient’s medical care in some of the following ways:
- Clarifying diagnoses and doctors’ instructions.
- Helping individuals explain their symptoms and health issues to their medical practitioner.
- Assessing what services are available to the patient through health insurance or government medical initiatives.
They can also help with placements in facilities, arranging transportation, and reviewing or correcting medical bills. In addition, many health advocates also work to improve healthcare laws and policies to ensure better patient care for all.
By helping patients navigate the healthcare system and providing vital backup, health advocates give them a voice. As a result, empowered patients are more engaged in their healthcare and able to communicate more effectively with their care providers. This goes a long way in ensuring that appropriate tests are administered, medications are effective and money and time is used efficiently. Additionally, empowering patients makes them more likely to trust and use tools like patient portals that are in place to improve efficiency and information sharing.
Choosing the Best Healthcare Advocate
When deciding whether you or a loved one should find someone to help you, it’s important to remember the roles of a healthcare advocate. There are a variety of ways a health advocate may assist a patient, including:
- Helping patients prepare for appointments by gathering information about the patient’s health, lifestyle, family histories, health insurance, medications, and other details that may be important for the medical care provider to know.
- Setting up visits to doctors or specialists.
- Taking notes at medical appointments that they can review with patients. These notes can also serve as a checklist for follow-ups.
- Clarifying for the patient what the medical professional has said and what the patient needs from the medical professional.
- Assistance with acquiring, managing prescription routines, and administering prescription medication.
- Helping patients adopt and maintain healthier lifestyles and providing comfort and guidance if the patient is stressed or confused about diagnoses or instructions.
- Showing/teaching patients how to navigate healthcare insurance issues and the healthcare system and helping the patient understand what services and treatments are covered.
- Reviewing and ensuring medical bills are accurate, and maybe even helping to negotiate reimbursement for medical expenses.
- Coordinating patient transfers or placement in medical facilities.
- Helping patients get admitted to or discharged from hospitals.
- Providing or negotiating home care services.
- Lobbying for patients’ rights at medical facilities or in the law.
Ideally, your health advocate is:
- An excellent communicator.
- An astute listener.
- Knowledgeable about the patient and the various processes involved in obtaining healthcare.
- Dedicated to looking after their client’s best interests.
- Someone with whom you are comfortable enough to share sensitive health information and concerns.
Health Advocacy Strategies
People often ask what the typical health advocacy strategies are. Like advocacy activities in other industries, maximizing success requires working smart. Some tried-and-true approaches include:
CLIENT MIGHT CHANGE:
- Fine tuning target audiences. Whether you are planning an awareness campaign or sitting down with government officials to discuss policy changes, you need to know which groups or individuals your messages will resonate with most. Knowing the best people to target may require research.
- Creating stories, not statements. Statements, whether informational or positional, may be straightforward, but many successful campaigns appeal to emotions and heartstrings. The easiest way is to tell the stories of actual people negatively affected by the status quo and how they have been positively affected by alternatives. Putting a face to a name also allows people to identify with the people involved.
- Partnering with other people or organizations with the same objectives. They say that two heads are (metaphorically) better than one. This is true when it comes to resources — funds, personnel, connections. Forming a coalition impacts not only the size and scope of a campaign but its potential reach and public perception of it. Sharing knowledge and networking are also helpful when designing campaigns.
- Leveraging Technology/Media. The key to awareness is reaching as many people in your target audience as possible. As communication technology has advanced, smart advocates have kept with the times. For example, many non-profit organizations have their own IT or social media sections and disseminate their messages as efficiently and effectively as commercial marketers. They also don’t limit the platforms and media they use for their promotional activities. Deploying radio, TV, print, and social media campaigns extends your reach and is essential when different parts of your target audiences exist in different places.
- Monitoring outcomes and revising the plan. When running a campaign — whether it’s government lobbying or creating social media content — it is important to step back and make sure that what you are doing is working. Otherwise, you may find yourself wasting resources and not effectively achieving what you set out to do. Make sure you take a look at what you have done at the end — if it’s a short, one-off campaign or between phases of a multi-phase project — and gauge how successful your actions were. If improvements can be made, make them.
The Vital Role of Health Advocacy
We are often asked why health advocacy is so important to our society. For individuals, having a health advocate ensures better patient care and utilization of the system. On a systemic level, health advocacy pushes the changes necessary to ensure that healthcare processes are effective and help the people who need them. Whatever the specific role and desired outcome, health advocates are doing their part to create a better world for their communities. Discover how to find the best health advocate for you or a loved one, or learn more about health advocacy on our blog.