Thursday, April 18, 2013


Patient advocates can be friends or family members, or hired professionals. Among hired professionals, you will find some advocates with medical backgrounds, some without; some with specific oncology experience and some with experience in other fields of medicine; also, some will work for the medical institution providing your care, and others work independently, representing only you.

Why do you or your loved one need a patient advocate?
Cancer care/ chronic illness is complicated diagnoses. Combine this illness with a complicated and fragmented medical/healthcare system and situations can get out of hand. You need the ability to think clearly to ensure that you are making the right decisions for you or your loved one. You might find yourself unable to attend doctor’s appointments or be at the hospital just at the right time that the physician enters the room. These are the times when it is helpful to have an objective person to be present.

What does a patient advocate do?
They make sure the patient is being treated well. They act as a sounding board for you to discuss your healthcare issues. They prioritize and focus on what is important for the patient and caregiver. They attend doctor appointments (or whenever there is a conversation regarding your healthcare). They disseminate the information and put the conversation in non-medical terms. They pay attention to the details. They try to ensure that medical errors are not made and facilitate further understanding of the information communicated to the patient and caregivers to prevent confusion.
    Who can be a patient advocate?
A hired advocate is one who has chosen to make a career and commitment to helping patients have a voice and improve the quality of care they receive; choosing a hired advocate involves developing a trusting relationship. A non-hired advocate is a loved one, family member, or friend/neighbor whom you trust and has your best interests in mind

How to choose a patient advocate:

Decide which areas of help you are looking, for example, is it insurance, treatment questions, case management/organization of treatments, specific understanding of information about your cancer/illness, or an emotional sounding board.

Check your advocate's experience, qualifications, and references:

Advocates with medical experience should be qualified registered nurses. Ask for detailed information about an advocate’s experience. Ask for client references and medical professional references. Is your potential to advocate someone you feel is trustworthy? Do you feel comfortable sharing your private medical information with this person? Is your potential advocate compassionate, and above all, a good listener.

Why a cancer (oncology) nurse advocate?
Cancer nurses are knowledgeable about the delivery of health care services involving cancer issues. They understand the complexity of patient care and the importance of taking care of the whole patient. They have the experience and the ability to anticipate issues related to cancer treatment.

Additionally, your personal cancer nurse advocate can help you:

They navigate the complexities of cancer care within the healthcare maze. They help you to understand your insurance benefits and explore testing and/or treatment options. They can compare your planned treatment to evidence-based clinical guidelines such as those of NCCN. They develop a list of questions to discuss with your medical team; research clinical treatment and clinical trial options if requested; and guide you through changes in medical direction and/or treatment. 

Differences between an oncology nurse navigator and a private oncology nurse advocate:
An oncology nurse navigator typically works within and for a medical center. They act as a liaison between you and your doctors at their facility. They educate, advocate, coordinates care and assists navigation of the healthcare system. They are there to improve your cancer care experience.
A private oncology nurse advocate has the same level of experience and qualifications, but s/he works for you, and is not beholden to an institution.
Beacon Oncology Nurse Advocates is a private oncology service located in St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay area Florida. They also help patients/ caregivers located elsewhere in the state.