In this week’s Beyond the Bedside, we look at the role and function of the Hospital Patient Advocate. Today, with 30% of hospital reimbursement based on the patient experience, hospitals are bringing on hospital advocates to work directly with patients and their families. This is to proactively address issues that could impact their experience and to ensure patients know their rights as patients.

What Exactly Do Hospital Patient Advocates Do?

Hospital advocates understand the workings of their hospitals and collaborate with department’s heads when issues arise. They also make rounds to meet with the patient and their families to address concerns regarding their treatment, communications, and transition of care issues. To address issues, advocates call family meetings to bring all of the players together to discuss challenges and break down barriers.

The hospital advocate also handles complaints and grievances. They then work to resolve issues according to the organizations regulatory and accreditation standards.

If there is a crisis situation, the advocate is part of the team. They will also be a part of the planning committee before, during, and after the crisis. The advocate’s role is to represent the patient and advocate for their rights and safety.

Hospital advocates hold various titles such as patient representatives, and health advocates. They can work under various departments such as administration, risk management or patient experience.

Hospital advocates are viewed as:

  • Team Builders
  • Collaborators
  • Educators
  • Facilitators
  • Mediators
  • Organizers
  • Researchers
  • Conflict Resolvers
  • Problem Solvers
  • Scribes

To be effective, Senior Leadership must show support for the hospital advocate to ensure their main focus is on the patient and ensuring they have a voice in their care to physicians and all members of the healthcare team.  Hospital Advocates  are accountable to the patient and their family in representing their interests first and foremost. Many feel that the hospital advocate would not be able to be objective as they are employees of the hospital, but by having leadership support, this is possible.

Competencies that are needed to be proficient in this field include:

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Conflict resolution strategies
  • Organization skills
  • Collaboration skills
  • Empowerment skills
  • Change agent; ability to identify issues and break down barriers
  • Team building skills
  • Education skills
  • Facilitation skills
  • Mediator skills
  • Research skills
  • Problem solving skills

Today, there are no national guidelines or national certification in place for the hospital advocate, but one is on the horizon. There are training programs for those entering the practice. These courses can range from a one-day introductory program to programs that can be 3, 6 9 or 1 year. Those who want to enter this emerging field should take the time to research the practice to see if it is an area they want to move into. In addition, there are professional organizations that provide ongoing education as the industry transitions.

Resources

Professional Patient Advocate Institute (PPAI):  a member organization for those who are independent, hospital or other type of advocates such as a billing or insurance advocates. PPAI also offers two e-learning certificate programs; one for those in practice or those interesting in becoming an Independent Patient Advocate or a Hospital Advocate. In addition, the Institute holds a national conference each year. This year, the conference will be held December 3-5th 2014 in Orlando Fl. To learn more, visit http://www.patientadvocatetraining.com/

Beryl Institute: The Beryl Institute is the global community of practice and premier thought leader on improving the patient experience in healthcare. They are professional organizations for professionals who specialize in improving the patient experience. http://www.theberylinstitute.org

The Alliance of Professional Patient Advocates: a member organization for patient advocates. To learn more visit http://aphadvocates.org/about.htm

Health/Patient Advocate Certification Steering Committee Work. This site will keep you up to date as a national certification is rolled out to validate the practice and provide consumers with a way to understand the qualifications should possess. To sign up for updates visit the website http://advocatecredential.org 

If you have questions about being an Independent Patient Advocate, please feel free to email me at allewellyn@decisionhealth.com.

Check out the two previous articles in this 42-week series on nursing careers beyond the bedside:

Week 19: Nursing Beyond the Bedside: Legal Nurse Consultant

Week 20: Nursing Beyond The Bedside: Independent Patient Advocates