Do you have to be an RN to be an Independent Patient Advocate?

  1. Hi there!

    I'm about to head into nursing school and will need a second job to help supplement my cost of living. Because of the hours, my current job at a doctor's office may not work for me. However, what I love about my job is being a Patient Advocate.

    Here are some of the the things I've done:
    • I've helped newly diagnosed patients of chronic illnesses find support groups outside of our practice so they're not alone in their experience
    • When a patient is confused about their insurance benefits, I've reached out to their insurance companies and help them determine coverage for procedures (from simple to complex)
    • I've been a shoulder to cry on for patients frustrated with their healthcare experience, whether it's with our medical group or with other offices and facilities
    • I've hunted down (of course adhering to HIPAA!) medical records of all kinds for myriad reasons

    I've thought about the ability to make a small income out of being an independent patient advocate. My crude vision of this is to assist patients with navigating their healthcare in a legal and professional way. I live near various medical hospitals and offices; I thought about offering my services on an as-needed basis to patients or working with a medical group or hospital if they don't have a patient advocate in place already. I have a database of specialists and doctors I know well from working in the office and speaking to them. I'm also very familiar with medical codes, billing, and other details that many patients are not entirely aware of. When I did some research on this, it appears to be a new idea (not so much a patient advocate but agencies that have independent patient advocates) and that some of the agencies that exist already have RNs who act as patient advocates.

    Based on your experience, how feasible is this? I'm sure I have so many factors to consider; but, for legal reasons do I have to be an RN in order to work independently as a patient advocate? I feel like the big thing to consider is to keep patient confidentiality under check as much as possible!

    Let me state here that I would not want to act as a medical consultant; in other words, I wouldn't advise a patient on what medication they should take or the type of treatment they should consider.
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    About whealer

    Joined: Aug '13; Posts: 99; Likes: 74


  3. by   nurseprnRN
    I have given presentations to patient advocates (have you connected with their association yet?) and while a number of them are nurses, not all of them are, and a number of them are independents; not all are in agencies or associated with others. They are developing standards of practice, and there are a lot of useful resources.

    Here's their website. Good luck!
    Professional Patient Advocate Institute
  4. by   whealer
    Yes! Thank you so much GrnTea!!!
  5. by   whealer
    Sorry I was so excited I didn't answer your question. No, I haven't connected with them yet; but I will definitely learn more about the association and get involved.

    Thanks again for this incredible resource!
  6. by   MotherRN
    Interesting! I didn't know this was being done. Is this like case management?
  7. by   whealer
    MotherRN, I don't know too much about case management, sorry.
  8. by   nurseprnRN
    It's sorta like case management and sorta not. By definition, case management influences the course of medical care, and you wouldn't necessarily be doing that. However, you could look at it as being an independent case manager; there are a number of overlapping skills.

    As noted, since not all advocates are nurses, you wouldn't be necessarily expected to use a lot of your nursing skills like assessing, care planning, and delegating. You will basically be helping people navigate the complexity of health care, helping make arrangements, checking insurance coverage, providing information on resources, and the like.

    Personally I feel that a nurse has a head-start on this sort of thing precisely because of our understanding of how many of these systems work; this may not necessarily be a game for rookies, but since they don't require being an RN, you will learn what you need to know and do it. Maybe I'll see you at a PPAI conference someday!