By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
You receive a stunning medical diagnosis that will require a long, arduous treatment and recovery.
Your elderly father lives in another state. He functions well overall, but seems confused about his myriad of doctor’s appointments and medications.
Your child’s health falters and you cannot find the right specialist to give you solid answers and treatment options.
Any of these scenarios — and more — could indicate that a health care advocate could help you and your family.
While health insurance typically does not cover the cost of retaining a health care advocate, Trisha Torrey, head of The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates in Florida, said that a health care advocate can help patients save money in some cases, such as finding a better price on medication or guiding patients toward the right specialist instead of paying for care that doesn’t help.
“What Americans have learned is the health care system is only set up to help patients if they can make money off patients,” Torrey said. “The money has gotten in the way.”
The many changes in the health care and health insurance industries in recent years have left patients reeling. Torrey compares health care advocates with attorneys, as few people would represent themselves in court on an important or highly complex case.
Lowered reimbursements have forced physicians to cram more patients into their case load to ensure they can stay solvent. Torrey said that doctors used to see 20 patients daily, but now try to see up to double that amount. As a result, the patient experience suffers. Health care advocates can help care providers by ensuring that the patient asks all the questions he needs to ask, understands the doctor’s orders and adheres to the orders, too.
Torrey added that these steps are hard to do for patients who are in pain or taking some medication.
Torrey said that at first, physicians thought advocates would take up valuable visit time; however, many more providers are realizing that advocates actually save them time.
Torrey said that the demand for advocates is growing. She has about 250 to 300 independent advocates in the US and Canada. Many come from clinical or social services backgrounds.
“You can’t understand the health care system,” Torrey said. “It’s intentionally set up to be obscure. The only way to get through the system with the health care you deserve is to have a patient advocate by your side.”
That kind of thinking spurred Paul Bluestein to found Patient Advantage, LLC in Tonawanda 13 years ago. A chiropractor by training, Bluestein said his organization helps people navigate the health system while staying “patient-centered,” Bluestein said.
When a client of Patient Advantage receives a diagnosis, Bluestein’s team creates a thorough search of all information needed to manage the situation, from lists of support groups, to specialists, to community resources and more. A nurse from his staff delivers the 100-page report to walk the patient through all the information. Patient Advantage also helps clients coordinate care and medication as needed and provides corporate wellness programs and online educational opportunities.
Of course, people can still search online for information on their own; however, his team accesses medical journals available only by subscription, among their resources. Bluestein feels that the level of information available publically doesn’t measure up.
While dogged researchers can find reliable information, they may not feel up to the task.
“If you are the one who’s ill, you don’t want to be figuring out your own care,” Bluestein said. “Let’s say you’re the loved one of the person who’s sick and you’re going online. Let’s say the ending goes badly. Would you really want to carry the guilt if things went badly? Or would you want an outside professional do this, someone who can put all the right information together?”