[Bella’s intro: Soon after Joan DelFattore and I published an article, “How single people are shortchanged in the health care system,” at my “Living Single” blog at Psychology Today, I heard from Ailene Gerhardt, who described to me the importance of having a trained advocate on your side if a serious illness sucks you or someone you are caring for into the medical system vortex. I found what she had to say so compelling, I asked if she would share what she has learned with the readers of this blog. I am grateful to her for agreeing. If you have other questions after reading this, the information and links in the “About the Author” section at the end may help. You can also read more about health care and illness in the lives of single people here.]

Why Hire an Independent Board Certified Patient Advocate?

By Ailene Gerhardt, MA, BCPA, Founder Beacon Patient Advocates LLC

Navigating today’s healthcare system can be confusing, complicated, and time consuming. The challenges become even larger when an individual or a loved one receives a complicated diagnosis or is facing a serious illness. Focus can easily shift from having a well-organized method for taking care of things, to becoming distracted, overwhelmed, and shocked by the news the health provider has just delivered.

In that moment, and the moments that follow, it is difficult to absorb details of the diagnosis, medical procedure, and treatment plan. As a “patient” or the loved one of a “patient,” the last thing on one’s mind is the specific details of insurance coverage or the process for receiving pre-authorization for a procedure or treatment.

Being a patient or supporting a loved one while (s)he is navigating an illness is draining and challenging. There is a lot of new information to process and often a whole new “medical” language to learn quickly. Having a skilled professional to help guide the way at such a complicated time can make a significant impact on a patient’s care.

Independent board-certified patient advocates (BCPA) have been trained to navigate the complexities of today’s healthcare system. Patient advocates have varied professional backgrounds ranging from those who have previously worked in the healthcare system to those drawn to the work as a result of a profound personal experience.

For me, unexpectedly serving as our family’s health advocate during my mother’s critical illness and 6-month hospital stay was life-changing in many ways. After my mom was discharged from the hospital, I continued to serve as my mom’s advocate along her road to rebuild her life and regain her independence. This experience opened my eyes to the critical need and value of the role of an advocate in a patient’s care. As a result, I decided to change careers, formalize my training by earning a Professional Certificate in Consumer Health Advocacy, become Board Certified, and open my own independent private patient advocacy practice, Beacon Patient Advocates LLC.

Working with an independent board-certified patient advocate offers a client peace of mind and enhances his/her support system.  Due to an ever-changing  healthcare system, the average doctor’s appointment lasts between 10 and 20 minutes. In that time the patient and the provider need to be able to ask each other questions, listen to the answers and agree upon treatment.  In that setting, it is often difficult for the patient to remember all of the information delivered and to definitively understand the recommended plan of action.

A patient advocate can assist a client in identifying and preparing a list of priorities to optimize the time spent with a doctor at a medical appointment, accompany the client to the appointment, be an additional set of “eyes and ears” in the room, and take notes.

An advocate can also research and compile reliable information about a diagnosis or treatment, review medical bills for billing errors, assist in filing paperwork or an appeal with an insurance company / Medicare / Medicaid, organize medical records, and coordinate communication with a client’s healthcare team.

Working with an independent board-certified patient advocate (BCPA) provides a client with compassionate, resourceful, and skilled assistance tailored to the client’s expressed needs, goals, and values. Private patient advocacy services are not covered by insurance and this allows the independent patient advocate’s only “allegiance” to be to the client. A patient advocate can assist in cutting through the “red tape” while amplifying the client’s voice and assisting her/him in making informed medical decisions.

Increasingly, consumers are seeking an independent patient advocate to assist in navigating the healthcare system. Too often an independent patient advocate enters a medical situation in the middle or towards the end, when a client has stumbled upon a barrier to care, communication, or coverage. As the field of patient advocacy continues to grow, and more consumers are exposed to the value and impact of working with an independent board-certified patient advocate, I hope consumers will begin to proactively include this professional resource in their care team toolbox.

About the Author:

Ailene Gerhardt, MA, BCPA is an Independent Board Certified Patient Advocate (BCPA) and Founder of Beacon Patient Advocates LLC in Brookline, MA who has been helping others navigate the complexities of the healthcare system since 2011.  

Beacon Patient Advocates LLC is a private patient advocacy firm that works with clients in the Greater Boston area, throughout Massachusetts, and nationwide. While some advocacy services rely on locale, many do not. Depending on client needs, patient advocacy services can be provided via phone call, email, and face-to-face technology regardless of where the client is located.

Services provided by Beacon Patient Advocates LLC are not covered by insurance and are not a substitution for care provided by a healthcare provider.  Beacon Patient Advocates LLC does not provide medical, financial, or legal advice.