The Patient Advocate: Your Guide to the Health Care Maze

Having an ally to help you negotiate the health care maze can be absolutely critical to obtaining the best medical care, especially if you are sick enough that you’re not thinking as clearly as usual. A patient advocate does not need any special training in medicine or nursing — just an inquisitive mind and persistence in asking questions and getting answers.

As this blog has previously reported, patients in some parts of the country now can find professional patient advocates to help them. People who have tried it say these advocates are lifesavers who are worth every penny of their fee.

A group that does this for free with volunteers is called Bedside Advocates in the Boston area, founded by retired physician Jonathan Fine. The group was featured in a recent story by NPR health reporter Richard Knox. The problem is that volunteers working part-time can only help a limited number of patients, and the need is vast.

Nurse Dianne Savastano has set up a professional patient advocacy service, also in the Boston area. The NPR story quotes one of her clients, Barbara Porter, who hired Ms. Savastano to help manage the complex care needs of her elderly father, for which she pays Ms. Savastano $15,000 a year. Says Ms. Porter: “I tell him, ‘Dad, you got resurrected.’ He literally did get resurrected. He would either be dead or in a nursing home right now if it wasn’t for Dianne.”

Patrick Malone’s new book, “The Life You Save,” gives a list of pointers for how family members can become effective advocates for their elderly relatives who cannot manage their own care. If you live in an area with professional patient advocates, that should be an option you should consider. None of us can go it alone in this complex health care system.

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