Last month I mused in an article that there is a need for healthcare professionals whose job it would be to advocate for women who are not being taken seriously by doctors. In the comments section a reader let me know that there actually is such a thing, she'd hired one, and she could put me in contact with her. I jumped on the opportunity, and what follows is what I learned from Lora McCann, a professional personal healthcare advocate.
What they do.
Personal healthcare advocates fill in the gaps of the medical system. They accompany clients to doctor visits and sit bedside with them in the hospital. They take down instructions from the doctor, advocate for clients during appointments, follow up with doctors to get referrals, pester office staff to obtain necessary paperwork, speak with insurance companies. In short, they do whatever is necessary to ensure clients receive the best healthcare possible. Lora told me that she's had a patient, for example, who called her doctor's office asking for some item of paperwork to get into a pain clinic, and when she asked for the document, she was told it was impossible. Lora called and because she is a professional asking the same question, the doctors' office immediately got it done. Should it be this way? No. But it is, and having an advocate like Lora can be an enormous help.
How they get paid.
Out of pocket by the patient. Some patients balk at this, expecting these services to be covered by insurance. (They're not.) But as Lora pointed out, because she's paid by the patient, she has only one priority: working for that patient. If the health insurance company paid her, do you think she'd really be that effective in taking them on? Ditto if the hospital paid her. So it sucks that some patients won't be able to afford these services, and I'd love to see nonprofit organizations popping up to support this sort of advocacy, but that is the way of the world. If you can afford it, this could really be the solution to a lot of your medical system woes.
Doctors' responses to healthcare advocates.
Some doctors hate it when you google your own symptoms. (Read some of the nasty comments to my article on the issue. Jeez! Such invective.) So I wondered, would they hate the idea of healthcare advocates? Would they feel that they're invading the doctors' turf? Not according to Lora. (So glad to hear this!) She told me that MDs and DOs have been very favorable toward her. There have been instances that she's noticed a possible drug interaction the doctor missed and the doctor was thankful that she prevented him from potentially harming the patient. Doctors only have 5-10 minutes to spend with each patient, so having someone there who's an expert in their case is a benefit to the doctor. Ironically, she's actually gotten more pushback form nurses and physicians' assistants. She's found that they can be more defensive. This is anecdotal from one healthcare advocate, but I found it interesting. If there are more healthcare advocates out there, is this your experience as well? I'm definitely curious.
Who is the typical client?
You might assume, as I did, that the typical client would be a well-to-do elderly patient who would like a younger person to accompany them to their appointments. However, that hasn't been Lora's experience, even though she lives in Florida. She's only had one client over 65. The rest of them have been in their 20s, 30s or 40s. On further reflection, this actually makes a lot of sense. Younger people with chronic illnesses may actually have more trouble navigating the healthcare system. If you're in your 20s and struggling with fibromyalgia, it can be some doctors' knee jerk reaction to think, "You're too young to be sick. It must be all in your head." Also, doctors are more likely to think that younger people are faking their symptoms to get out of working or family responsibilities. Thus, it's younger people who require these services far more often than older people. Makes sense now that I've spoken to Lora, but I wouldn't have necessarily predicted that myself.
What sort of training do healthcare advocates have?
There are two professional organizations: the National Alliance of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants and the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates. These organizations are great because you can go on their websites and search for members in your area. There are also a number of colleges and universities who offer Bachelors, Masters or certificate programs in patient advocacy. Lora finished a year-long program through the UCLA extension.
BUT, if you're looking for the services of a healthcare advocate, you really need to be your own, well, advocate. There's no state or national licensing required to call yourself a healthcare advocate. Even if you're a member of one of these organizations, there's no particular requirement that you have a specific amount of education. Lora not only completed a year-long program in healthcare advocacy, she also attends a number of yearly conferences and prides herself on being up-to-date in the world of patient advocacy. I would definitely feel comfortable recommending her services (and I'm getting absolutely nothing for saying that), but just because someone calls him- or herself a healthcare advocate, doesn't really mean a whole lot. Definitely do your homework before you hire anyone.
Want to learn more about Lora McCann and what she's doing?
Like I said, I have no personal connection to Lora and I'm getting nothing for saying this, but she seemed like a really smart and caring individual. If you're in Florida, she'd be at the top of my list of someone to reach out to. You can visit her website www.peace-of-mind-pa.com. There you can learn more about what she's doing and how she can help you. If you feel that doctors aren't taking your symptoms seriously and you have the money, hiring a personal healthcare advocate could be the best thing you've ever done for your health.