What is a Patient Health Advocate or Navigator?

While medical care continues to escalate in scope and complexity, allotted time for meaningful interactions with health care providers is on the decline. In this environment, many patients find themselves confused and poorly informed. These same patients are expected to make knowledgable health care decisions and weigh treatment options all while navigating today’s health care maze. In other instances, caregivers struggle to manage the health care of a loved one either because of time constraints or geographical separation. These and other health care challenges present a wonderful opportunity to engage the services of a health advocate or navigator.

So, what is an advocate? A navigator? Because these terms are relatively new, especially in the private sector, the definitions seem to be expanding and specializing as the profession grows. Additionally, both terms are often used interchangeably. Generally speaking, a patient or health advocate does just that—advocates. An advocate is responsive and dedicated to finding the best health outcomes for their clients. Advocates strive to support and empower patients and their families . Some advocates focus only on health care delivery and work to improve a client’s understanding of a diagnosis, procedure or treatment. This may also include researching diseases and possible treatment options or perhaps arranging, organizing and accompanying a client to physician appointments. Others are available in the hospital to sit bedside as a companion or attend medical team meetings to gather information that will further enhance the client or family’s understanding. Other advocates specialize in medical bill review and can assist a client in insurance claims and even resolve billing discrepancies. Some hospitals and insurance companies employ advocates, but hiring a private advocate is increasing in popularity because of the unique advantage of focused, personalized care and allegiance to the client only.

The term navigator is a bit newer in its origin. Disease navigation began in the 1990s as a way to improve disease outcomes like cancer. With disease navigation, the goal was to improve diagnosis, treatment and communication among the various entities involved in a patient’s care so that care was more efficient and the patient better informed. Today, many health care facilities have their own navigator teams specific to a particular cancer or chronic disease. These persons come along side the patient and help to guide and facilitate their care within their facility. A private health navigator strives to achieve these same goals but the navigator/client relationship is unique in that the navigator is employed by the client and therefore the care is individualized and independent of the facility’s pre-determined care path.

Later, this month—how to screen a potential advocate for yourself or a family member.

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