By Joan Koczor 

Initially, your primary care provider will be the first step in diagnosing many health issues. He will recommend screening, help you manage chronic conditions and, if needed, refer you to other types of providers or specialists.

A short list of specialists may include cardiologists, oncologists, allergists, psychologists, podiatrists and orthopedists.

Through all this, your life has changed – you’ve become a patient.

Your days are no longer ordinary. There are examinations, medications, diagnosis and treatment options, doctor appointments, hospital stays, decisions to make, endless paperwork, phone calls to health insurers. Who can you turn to in time of an emergency?

Dealing with any illness can be a very stressful time for patients and their families.

Add to that the health care system has become so confusing – think walking through a maze – that some patients may need someone to help them navigate.

A new trend is enlisting a patient advocate.

An advocate may be a member of your family or a close friend. An effective advocate is someone you trust and will act on your behalf as well as work with other members of your health care team.

Another type of advocate is a professional advocate. Hospitals usually have professionals who play this role called patient representatives or patient advocates. Social workers or nurses may also fill this role.

In choosing a patient advocate, it is important to decide what you want help with and what you can handle without assistance.

Do you need a better understanding of options for hospitals, doctors, diagnostic tests? Assurance your wishes are carried out if there comes a time you might not be able to do that yourself? Would you like your advocate to accompany you to tests, appointments, treatments and procedures? Assist you in wading through the never-ending medical bills? Become your representative to health care providers?

It is important to let your physician and those caring for you know who your advocate is and how much involvement they have in your care. Make sure your doctors and nurses have your advocate’s contact information. And the same for your advocate – provide them with numbers for your health care provider, hospital and pharmacy and anyone you wish contacted in case of an emergency.

Not all advocates charge a fee. Not all who do will charge for their services in exactly the same way. The cost may depend on:

  • your location, or your location in relation to where they are located.
  • the advocate’s experience and education.
  • the amount of time you work together.

Additional factors like necessary travel, acquisition of medical records, or others may cause the price to fluctuate.,

Joan Koczor is a senior advocate and member of the Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee.

This column appears in the July issue of InMaricopa Magazine.


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