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Patient advocacy

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It has been suggested that portions of Health advocacy (about advocacy for individual patients) be split from it and merged into this article. (Discuss) (October 2017)

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The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (October 2017)

Part of a series on Patients



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Sick role


Patient advocacy is an area of specialization in health care concerned with advocacy for patients, survivors, and caregivers. The patient advocate may be an individual or an organization, often, though not always, concerned with one specific group of disorders. The terms patient advocate and patient advocacy can refer both to individual advocates providing services that organizations also provide, and to organizations whose functions extend to individual patients. Some patient advocates work for the institutions that are directly responsible for the patient's care.

Typical advocacy activities are the following: safeguarding patients from errors, incompetence and misconduct; patient rights, matters of privacy, confidentiality or informed consent, patient representation, awareness building, support and education of patients, survivors and their carers.[1] Patient advocates give a voice to patients, survivors and their carers on healthcare-related (public) fora, informing the public, the political and regulatory world, health-care providers (hospitals, insurers, pharmaceutical companies etc.), organizations of health-care professionals, the educational world, and the medical and pharmaceutical research communities.

Nurses can perform a de facto role of patient advocacy.[1] Patients can advocate for themselves through self-advocacy and the ability for this self-advocacy can be learnt or improved through training.[2]


1 History

2 Processes

3 Public policy

4 Private advocacy

5 Marketing

6 Organizations

6.1 Professional groups

6.2 Center for Patient Partnerships

6.3 Government agencies

6.3.1 United States

7 Self-advocacy

8 Nurse advocacy

9 Relationship to pharmaceutical industry

10 See also

11 References


Patient advocacy in the United States emerged in the 1950s in the context of cancer research and treatment.[3] In those early days of cancer treatment, patients and their families raised ethical concerns around the tests, treatment practices, and clinical research being conducted. For instance, they expressed concern to the National Institute of Health (NIH) about the cruelty of the repeated collection of blood samples (for blood marrow examination) and raised questions about whether this was more harmful than beneficial to the patient.[3] Sidney Farber, a Harvard physician and cancer researcher, coined the term «total care», to describe the treatment of children suffering from leukemia.[4] Under total care, a physician «treated the family as a whole, factoring in its psychosocial and economic needs», rather than focusing purely on physical health concerns.[4] Previous researchers had dealt with concerns raised by families, because physicians emphasized patient physical health rather than the inclusion of bedside manners with the families. The practice of practice advocacy emerged to support and represent patients in this medico-legal and ethical discussion.

The 1970s were also an important time in the USA for patient advocacy as the Patient Rights movement grew. As a major advocacy organization during the time, the National Welfare Rights Organization's (NWRO) materials for a patient's bill of rights influenced many additional organizations and writings, including hospital accreditation standards for the Joint Commission in 1970 and the American Hospital Association's Patient Bill of Rights in 1972.[5][6] The utilisation of advocates by individual patients gained momentum in the early 2000s in the USA, and Australia 10 years later, and the profession is now perceived as a mainstream option to optimise outcomes in both hospital and community based healthcare.


Patient advocacy can work by

Educating and walking patients through the management of their disease or chronic illnesses. The social determinants of health can vary significantly from patient to patient. It is the role of the patient advocate to cater to the patient's needs and assist with these factors, such as where to find treatment to manage their illness, assisting with healthcare access due to socioeconomic barriers, or helping find additional health services.[7] Assistance with the management of their illnesses or disease can also include assisting with cooperative purchases of health care materials.

Establishing a network of contacts. Examples of contacts patient advocates can assist in connecting patients to include: in the public sector (political and regulatory), in public and private health insurance, in the sector of medical service providers, with medical practitioners, and with pharmaceutical and medical research to provide patients with help in the care and management of their diseases.[8]

Providing emotional support in dealing with their health concerns, illnesses, chronic conditions. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, individuals with chronic illnesses are at a higher risk of depression of than patients with other mental health conditions.[9] When managing their illnesses, patients and survivors suffer from the direct effect of the consequences their disease has on their quality of life, and my also go through difficult phases of adaptation of their daily routine and lifestyle to accommodate the disease.[9] Part of the role of patient advocates can include providing emotional support for patients or connecting them to mental health resources.

Attending appointments with a patient. Patients can find doctor's appointments intimidating, but also difficult to understand. Issues may stem from differences in language proficiency, educational background, or background in health literacy.[10] A patient advocate's presence can ensure that patient's concerns are highlighted and adequately addressed by physicians. Patient advocates may also be responsible for assisting with scheduling additional appointments as well.

Assisting with health insurance and other financial aspects of healthcare. The Institute of Medicine in the United States says fragmentation of the U.S. health care delivery and financing system is a barrier to accessing care.[11] Within the financing system, health insurance plays a significant role. According to a United Health survey, only 9% of Americans surveyed understood health insurance terms, which presents a significant issue for patients, given the importance of health insurance in terms of providing access to healthcare.[12] The patient advocate may help with researching or choosing health insurance plans.

Public policy

Main article: Health advocacy


This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (October 2017)

Private advocacy

Main article: Health advocacy

Private Advocates (also known as Independent Patient/Health/Health Care advocates) often work alongside the advocates that work for hospitals. As global healthcare systems started to become more complex, and as the role of the cost of care continues to place more of a burden on patients, a new profession of private professional advocacy began to take root in the mid-2000s. At that time, two organizations were founded to support the work of these new private practitioners, professional patient advocates.[13] The National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants was started to provide broad support for advocacy.[14] The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates was started to support the business of being a private advocate.[15]

Proponents of private advocacy, such as Australian advocate Dorothy Kamaker and L. Bradley Schwartz, have noted that the patient advocates employed by healthcare facilities have an inherent conflict-of-interest in situations where the needs of an individual patient are at odds with the business interests of an advocate's employer. Kamaker argues that hiring a private advocate eliminates this conflict because the private advocate “…has only one master and very clear priorities.”[16] L. Bradley Schwartz is the founder and president of GNANOW.org where he states, «Everyone employed by a health care company is limited to what they can accomplish for patients and families. Hospital-employed patient advocates, navigators, social workers, and discharge planners are no different. They became health care professionals because they are passionate about helping people. But they have heavy caseloads and many work long hours with limited resources. Independent Patient Advocates work one-on-one with patients and loved ones to explore options, improve communication, and coordinate with overworked hospital staff. In fact, many Independent Patient Advocates used to work for hospitals and health care companies before they decided to work directly for patients.»[17]


Patient opinion leaders, also sometimes called patient advocates, are individuals who are well versed in a disease, either as patients themselves or as caretakers, and share their knowledge on the particular disease with others. Such POLs can have an influence on health care providers and may help persuade them to use evidence-based therapies or medications in the management of other patients. Identifying such people and persuading them is one goal of market access groups at pharmaceutical and medical device companies.[18]


Professional groups

Alliance of Professional Health Advocates

The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates (APHA) is an international membership organization for private, professional patient advocates, and those who are exploring the possibility of becoming private advocates. It provides business support such as legal, insurance and marketing. It also offers a public directory of member advocates called AdvoConnection.[15] Following the 2011 death of Ken Schueler — a charter member of the APHA, described as «the Father of Private Patient Advocacy» — the organization established the H. Kenneth Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award. The award recognizes excellence in private practice including the use of best practices, community outreach, support of the profession and professional ethics.[19]

Dialysis Patient Citizens

Dialysis Patient Citizens is a patient-led, non-profit organization dedicated to improving dialysis citizens’ quality of life by advocating for favorable public policy. One of DPC's goals is to provide dialysis patients with the education, access and confidence to be their own advocates. Through their grassroots advocacy campaigns, Patient Ambassador program; Washington, DC patient fly-ins; conference calls and briefings, DPC works to train effective advocates for dialysis-related issues.[20] Membership is free.[21]

National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants

National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants (NAHAC) is a nonprofit organization located in Berkeley, California. Joanna Smith founded NAHAC on July 15, 2009 as a broad-based, grassroots organization for health care and patient advocacy. To that end, it is a multi-stakeholder organization, with membership open to the general public.[14]

National Patient Advocate Foundation

The National Patient Advocate Foundation is a non-profit organization in the United States dedicated to "...improving access to, and reimbursement for, high-quality healthcare through regulatory and legislative reform at the state and federal levels."[22] The National Patient Advocate Foundation was founded simultaneously with the non-profit Patient Advocate Foundation, "...which provides professional case management services to Americans with chronic, life-threatening and debilitating illnesses."[23]

Patient Advocates Australia

Patient Advocates Australia, founded by Dorothy Kamaker, is a support option for consumers of aged, health and disability care in Australia. For the elderly, an emerging need has arisen for patient advocacy in residential aged facilities. The Aged Care Royal Commission Report published in 2021 has made recommendations regarding a need for vigilant advocacy for residents of nursing homes to protect them against rampant abuse and neglect with one submission calling for the routine provision of independent patient advocates (https://agedcare.royalcommission.gov.au/system/files/2021-02/AWF.600.02345.0001.pdf) For the disabled, funding for support to overcome healthcare barriers is available through the NDIS (https://www.ndiscommission.gov.au/participants/disability-advocacy). The Australian Patient's Association says “More and more, patients are realizing they can improve their medical outcomes..” and recommends the use of (independent) patient advocates (https://www.patients.org.au/you-are-a-patient/be-empowered/).

Greater National Advocates (GNA)

Greater National Advocates is a non-profit organization with a goal to wake up the nation to the lifesaving benefits of Independent Patient Advocacy and provide patients and loved ones with immediate online access to a trusted network of qualified practitioners. GNA uses fact-based media to spread awareness and steer patients and their loved ones to GNANOW.org where they can learn more and find the professional support they need.[24]