To Advocate or Navigate in the Health Care System? Meaningful Jobs Improve the Patient Experience

 

people interacting at work

As the business of healthcare evolves at a rapid pace, so do jobs that take on new importance in an environment that promises renewed focus on population health, accountable and affordable care, and on an improved patient experience. You can expect more opportunities for patient advocates, representatives, liaisons and even ombudsmen—all “similar but different.”

If this appeals to you, first spend some quality research time learning about The Beryl Institute. This organization is the global community of practice dedicated to improving the patient experience through collaboration and shared knowledge.

The institute says that “patient advocates are employed by healthcare organizations with a commitment to ensuring patient voice is heard, yet they also represent the organization in which they are employed, its vision and strategy.”

What You’ll Do

A white paper published by The Beryl Institute entitled “Patient Advocate: A Critical Role in the Patient Experience” says the patient advocate may also fill the following complementary roles in a healthcare organization: information resource, institutional change agent, partner in collaboration between the community and the organization, and grievance coordinator.

Additionally, advocates are involved in—get ready to multitask!—mediation, ethics consultations, staff education, interpretive services, organizing patient/family advisory councils, arrangements for international patients, including coordination of housing and transportation, discharge planning, response to codes to provide emotional support, lost and found, services for patients with special needs in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, organ donation, advance directives and hotel management for out-of-town patients and families.

A Better Experience for Patients

As you can see, the job requires the wearing of many hats, which means “never a dull moment” and the opportunity to make a real difference every day in a variety of circumstances. To learn more about this, Monster asked two members of The Beryl Institute who are also Patient Advocacy Community Co-Chairs there and who co-authored the white paper.

Kim Pedersen is administrative director of patient relations at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, Ill. Pedersen embraces her role and the diversity and ever-challenging nature of the job. “This position has really evolved into being a critical part of the patient experience,” she says, “and it requires a broad set of competencies.”

She interfaces daily with multiple departments and staff including volunteers, security, reception, the switchboard, the medical clinic and more. Having a degree in communications or counseling helps, as does a clinical background, Pedersen says. Add that to sharp critical thinking skills and a passion for advocating for what’s right and ethical, and you’ve got the makings of an excellent patient advocate.

“If you enjoy mining data and analyzing it, that’s helpful, too,” says Pedersen. “In this job, we look at data daily and translate it into actions that can improve the patient experience.”

A Job for the Greater Good

Not far away, also in Illinois, Kate Clarke manages patient relations and interpreter services at Northwestern Medicine in Winfield. She works at Central DuPage and Delnor Hospitals.

The psychological makeup of the person who succeeds at a job like hers must have a strong, intrinsic motivation to help others and do the right thing. “In patient relations we hear concerns that have a quality of care component. If something doesn’t go the way it should, we understand why and what’s being done to create an amicable resolution to the patient’s concern,” Clarke says.

The hospital, patients and the advocate have a common interest, she says. “It is high quality care. My input is valued even if I must sometimes go ‘against the grain,’ because I’m advocating for the greater good.”

Clarke’s background includes extensive experience in mental health crisis intervention. Agreeing that anyone doing advocacy invests a piece of themselves, she says it’s important to know how to temper emotional experiences that could impact your personal life, and which could potentially lead to burnout. It’s a necessary skill that must be developed by many compassionate individuals in healthcare.

The Patient Navigation Conversation

Depending upon the circumstance, a patient navigator differs slightly from the other job titles mentioned, because he or she helps navigate a person’s experience throughout the course of their illness—usually on an inpatient basis but sometimes outpatient.

In fact, many hospitals utilize navigators to work with patients who have certain types of cancer, such as breast cancer, says Trisha Torrey, founder and director of The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates. All APHA members are private advocates who provide services such as care coordination and reviews of medical bills, and who can accompany a patient to the doctor’s office or supervise family mediation. They’re hired by individuals or families, versus the advocates we’ve profiled thus far.

“In a hospital setting, if oncology sends you for treatment to its infusion center, someone may assign a cancer navigator to ensure appointments are confirmed and that you understand the care you will receive,” Torrey says. That navigator could also be a nurse or nurse practitioner.

What You Will Need to Know

Other jobs in healthcare may require official licensing or certification, but as Torrey says on the APHA website, “There are no governments, nor nationally respected, nor generally accepted groups that have determined a group of standards, nor benchmarks, nor capabilities that supply a certification that is universally recognized” for patient advocacy.

To further your education, you may choose to earn a certificate on your own. The Beryl Institute offers a certificate in patient advocacy, as does UCLA Extension School, for example.

Salaries vary across the board for the category of job as advocate, representative, liaison and ombudsmen as paid by an employer—not as an independent practitioner. A cursory survey found compensation starting at $40,000 to $70,000 and up. Executive positions in the field command numbers in excess of $100,000.

Be aware that some navigators provide advice to consumers choosing health insurance through the marketplace, and those jobs are usually volunteer positions, Torrey says. The American Cancer Society has navigators who are trained cancer information specialists via a toll-free number, and they provide free, confidential advice.

Stephanie Stephens, Monster Contributing Writer | May 13, 2015