Here's how to find a patient advocate... and why you need one

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Getting the proper medical care when you need it could mean the difference between life and death. And even if a health issue isn't severe, it could mean a hefty hit to your wallet. So you might consider hiring someone to be your advocate.

"Patient advocate" is almost a buzz phrase right now and for good reason. This is someone who is going to fight for you, your family and your finances. So here's what to consider when looking for one.

"These days what come really crucial are patient advocates," said Kevin Brasler of Checkbook.org.

A patient advocate is someone who acts as a liaison between you and your family and the healthcare industry, whether it's doctors, nurses or insurance companies.

One common issue patient advocates address is patients getting discharged too quickly.

"It's not always the hospital's fault. Sometimes these care decisions are being made these days by health insurance plans," said Brasler.

A patient advocate can ask for a reevaluation and help deem whether it's too dangerous for a patient to be sent home or to a nursing facility.

A patient advocate can also help you avoid surprise medical bills.

"Instead of paying a fee of $2,000 for a test you know an imaging study it's $300 or something like that. Because hospitals and providers are notorious for charging very different rates to different patient populations," he said.

When looking for a patient advocate, start with free resources.

"Most hospitals these days have their own patient advocates," he said.

Look for one who specializes in the problem you are having, whether it's medical bills or getting the best treatment for a complicated diagnosis.

Also interview candidates and get references.

Experts say it's better to get a patient advocate before you need one.

Patient Advocate Directories:

Health Advocate
Guardian Nurses Healthcare Advocates
The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates
National Association of Healthcare Advocacy
Aging Life Care Association
Patient Advocate Certification Board
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