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What are the Skills, Duties of a Patient Advocate?

Career News August 21, 2013

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track patient advocate jobs, other sources rate the job outlook as excellent. Traditionally, employers of patient advocates have been hospitals and insurers. A new industry has developed of patient advocate businesses that exist solely to assist patients as they maneuver through all aspects of the health care system.

Patient advocates employed by a hospital

The wide-sweeping, catch-all job description of a hospital patient advocate is that the patient advocate is a liaison between the patient and any other person or department the patient has contact with during their hospital stay.

Each hospital employer will have its own job description. Duties vary from hospital to hospital. The advocate may be employed by the risk management department, financial services or any specific department in the hospital. Here are just a few of the specific duties generally required of a patient advocate employed by a hospital.

Interact with newly admitted patients

Advocates are expected to meet and introduce themselves to patients who have just been admitted to the hospital. They provide patients with the patient rights information pamphlet and explain how the patient can contact the advocate if any problems are encountered. Some hospitals delegate this task to a volunteer; however, it is becoming more common for this to be the job of an employed patient advocate.

Document, investigate and take steps to resolve all patient complaints

Complaints run the gamut from a patient complaining that someone on staff was rude to allegations of medical malpractice. The family may be upset with how they feel and how their loved one are being treated and responded to.
The advocate must have excellent listening skills, as well as patience. Sometimes, just listening to the family or patient’s complaint is enough to diffuse the situation. But, no matter how minor a complaint may seem, all complaints must be documented, investigated and resolved.

Steps must be taken to resolve the complaint and all resolution attempts must be documented. This may be as simple as talking to a staff member who was allegedly rude to notifying the legal department that action may be pending due to allegations of medical malpractice.

Follow-up on all complaints

One of the patient advocate jobs is to follow-up on all complaints. The advocate may believe the problem was resolved, but the patient whom complained is still vexed. Checking with patients to be sure the problem has been satisfactorily resolved is important. This includes making a phone call to the patient after discharge to see if there are any remaining issues that need to be investigated and resolved.

Documents and analyzes complaints to improve overall quality of care

The patient advocate studies the nature of complaints to determine if there is a pattern indicating a need for a change in a policy or procedures. The advocate works with other departments and the administration to implement any changes that need to be made to minimize future similar complaints.

Patient advocate jobs outside a hospital setting

Organizations dedicated to patient advocacy are independent of hospitals and insurers and are dedicated to helping only the patient and the patient’s family. Patient advocate jobs here include helping patients navigate through the insurance maze even to the extent of assisting with appeals for medical services and treatments that were denied. Patient advocates may also act as intermediaries with employers for job retention issues related to long-term illnesses.

Since the patient advocate is accountable only to the patient, all types of services are provided. Some services are provided directly by the organization. If the services cannot be provided, the patient advocate directs the patient to available resources for further assistance.

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