Patients seeking care need to understand how to navigate the nation’s healthcare system, which can sometimes feel like an insurmountable task. From locating in-network physicians and specialists to determining the types of procedures an insurance provider covers, deciphering the fine print can be hard.
That’s where patient advocates can help. What is a patient advocate? A patient advocate is a professional who not only helps educate patients about their treatment options but also reviews their insurance claims and medical bills for accuracy. Additionally, patient advocates help patients contact their insurance providers when they want a review of a denied claim. Students who want to pursue this career path may start by developing the skills and knowledge they’ll need to be successful. Therefore, earning a relevant degree, such as an online Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Family Studies, is an important first step toward becoming a patient advocate.
Possible Work Settings for Patient Advocates
Patient advocates work in a variety of settings. Some work with health maintenance organizations (HMOs) or preferred provider organizations (PPOs), whereas others work at not-for-profit disease care organizations, such as Shriners Hospitals for Children. Patient advocates may also find employment opportunities at outpatient care centers, community health clinics, or state, local, and private hospitals. Others are self-employed entrepreneurs who work in private practice.
Although most patient advocates work full time, Monday through Friday in an office setting, they may spend time away from the office if they accompany patients to medical appointments.
Patient Advocate Job Responsibilities
Students who want to pursue a career in patient advocacy should know that while many of the job duties are uniform, there may be some variation depending on the employer. For example, patient advocates who work for an HMO or PPO may focus on helping payers save money, whereas individuals who work for nonprofits may focus more on patient education. Patient advocates may also perform the following tasks:
- Assisting patients with health insurance applications
- Visiting patients during hospital stays
- Accompanying patients to medical appointments
- Interviewing patients to determine if there are care problems
- Helping patients choose a doctor or specialist
- Helping patients negotiate medical bills
- Helping patients resolve billing errors
- Maintaining contact with patients’ insurance companies to ensure billing issues are resolved quickly
- Ensuring patients have enough information about their care options to make informed decisions regarding their healthcare
Fundamental Skills of a Patient Advocate
Individuals who find themselves wondering what a patient advocate is should know that the primary role of these professionals is to defend patients’ rights. Consequently, those choosing to pursue this career path will need to develop several key skills, including the following examples:
- Attention to Detail: Professionals who choose a career in patient advocacy need to stay on top of a wide range of details, such as patients’ records, medical appointments, whether medical insurance claims have been paid, and whether billing statements are correct. Careful attention to detail helps ensure that patients’ cases are handled correctly.
- Communication Skills: Patient advocates communicate with many people, including patients, insurance providers, doctors, nurses, and other caregivers. Strong communication skills help advocates relay and receive information effectively.
- Critical Thinking Skills: Patients rely on their advocates to navigate the complex healthcare system. Critical thinking skills help patient advocates make logical connections between patients’ needs and their various care options.
- Interpersonal Skills: Navigating the healthcare system can leave patients feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, especially if they need treatment for a serious illness. Interpersonal skills help advocates connect with and listen to patients in a way that helps them feel that their concerns are heard and understood.
- Problem-Solving Skills: Patient advocates need to be adept problem- Regardless of whether problems arise with a care provider, medical billing, or a medical insurance claim denial, patient advocates need to research and find solutions.
Salary Range for Patient Advocates
The median salary for patient advocates is around $43,000, according to July 2020 PayScale data. While the median annual salary for professionals in the lowest 10% earnings range is around $33,000, the top 10% of patient advocates earn about $68,000 per year.
Salaries for these professionals vary widely based on several factors, including whether an individual works in an area with a high cost of living, such as New York City, or one with a low cost of living, such as El Paso, Texas. Other factors, such as a patient advocate’s level of education and years of experience in the field, also play a role in determining their annual compensation.
Your Path Toward a Career as a Patient Advocate Starts at Maryville
Patient advocates play a critical role in helping people navigate the challenges of the nation’s healthcare system. Not surprisingly, individuals who want to help others and change lives may be drawn toward discovering more about what a patient advocate is.
Enrolling in an online degree program, such as Maryville University’s online Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Family Studies, will help aspiring patient advocates develop the skills and knowledge needed to be successful. Upon completion of the program, graduates often find they’re well equipped to examine policies that influence patients’ well-being.
Are you ready to take the first brave step toward a career in patient advocacy? Discover how Maryville’s online Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Family Studies can help prepare you for the job you want.
Check out our new online degree programs coming this fall