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What Makes An Amazing Patient Advocate?

What Makes An Amazing Patient Advocate?
(AlexRaths / Getty Images/ iStockphoto)

A serious medical issue can derail your life — and the complications of the modern healthcare system can make the experience even harder. Enter the professional patient advocate, a valuable practitioner flourishing within today's medical system. This professional has honed his or her skills to guide the uninitiated through the sometimes baffling options, to help patients get the care they need. 

These professionals take on our healthcare system in many ways, said Dylan H. Roby, PhD, senior research scientist at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and assistant professor at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health's Department of Health Policy and Management, as well as an instructor at UCLA Extension. He points to "billing issues, understanding treatments, obtaining pre-authorization for insurance companies, and seeking providers who accept their insurance coverage." 

So how do you become a patient advocate? 

There are many paths to becoming a patient advocate. Before Veronica Moser possessed formal training, she assisted friends and family, including her own son, in finding the right medical care. Ultimately, she decided to become certified in the field. She attended the UCLA Extension's patient advocacy program because she "needed to validate [her] already acquired skills from life experiences."

Meanwhile, Roby has found that, though many paths lead people to a career in patient advocacy, those people are all fueled by a desire to help patients get what they need. He described a great patient advocate as someone who is "very dedicated to improving patient experience and helping people to obtain high-quality care."


If a would-be patient advocate has that dedication, he or she is on the right track. The next ingredient is formal training. Moser, for instance had already been through the school of hard knocks, but that alone was not enough. Classes and certification helped her launch her career. Other patient advocates start their careers as health professionals or insurance specialists before deciding to make the leap into patient advocacy.

No matter what route is pursued, becoming an amazing patient advocate requires outstanding communication skills. A great advocate can explain medical procedures in a way that is clear and comprehensible to a lay person, and also has the listening skills to find out what the patient needs, even when the patient might not be sure what that is.

Other qualities necessary for acing this field are patience, compassion and perseverance. Moser used all of these skills to provide first-rate assistance to a 90-year-old woman with dementia in beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. Her patient "needed a full spectrum of medically related services, from finding affordable housing to making family understand the importance of getting her to doctors' appointments," said Moser. Months went into getting services in place, but all that work paid off. Moser’s patient was able to live a far better-quality and longer life. 

And so, as patients and caretakers blindly charge into the current healthcare world's countless intricacies, keen patient advocates are there to clear the way for their success.

– Jane Lasky for UCLA Extension