The purpose of learning the ropes of policy, politics and advocacy is to influence health care or broader social agendas that influence human health. Discuss a time where you influence health care through advocacy.
The primary responsibility of health advocacy is to help patients on their healthcare journey. Typical health advocate activities can include the following:
- Helping patients deal with clinicians and healthcare professionals in diverse settings
- Providing patients with guidance based on their conditions and treatment options
- Supporting patients with health insurance processes, including filing claims and preparing necessary forms
Health advocates empower patients by helping them get access to affordable, effective, high-quality healthcare. The types of patients who can benefit from health advocacy include the following:
- Older adults: Health advocates accompany older patients during appointments to talk with doctors, take notes, and manage medical bills. They can also assist with preventive medical care, managing daily medications, and promoting activities that can improve a patient’s quality of life at home. The increasing use of digital technologies in healthcare can be a barrier to older adults’ engagement with the healthcare system. A health advocate can help older adults with that burden by logging in to patient portals to review diagnostic test results, scheduling appointments online, and renewing prescriptions.
- Patients with dementia: Dementia triggers a decline in a patient’s cognitive abilities and memory. Health advocates can help patients with reminders for bathing, taking medication, and performing other routines. In healthcare settings, patients with dementia may not understand their surroundings. For example, they may forget that they have mobility issues. With declined thinking and perception abilities, patients with dementia may become anxious and uncooperative, refusing to receive treatment or pulling out their IVs. Health advocates can help patients with dementia become familiar with their surroundings or feel comfortable. An advocate can also communicate with nurses, informing them of a patient’s preferences, capabilities, and potential responses to care.
- Hospitalized patients: Hospitals typically have patient advocates on staff to help patients and their families deal with a hospital stay. A hospital advocate ensures that patients are informed of their conditions. If patients are incapacitated, the hospital advocate communicates their condition to their families or guardians. Administratively, hospital advocates help patients secure copies of their medical records, understand hospital bills, and complete forms. When treatment or information is delayed, a health advocate can ask the nursing staff for help. In general, health advocates provide comfort to patients and their families during their hospital stay.
While health and patient advocacy focuses on helping patients on an individual basis, public health advocacy aims to help entire patient populations, from local neighborhoods or certain demographic groups to entire regions. Public health advocates may also focus on specific groups affected by issues such as alcohol and drug addiction; mental disorders; chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes; food safety; and acute diseases, such as COVID-19.
Public health policy addresses these and other public health concerns by:
- Increasing awareness of issues that impact people’s ability to access affordable, effective, high-quality healthcare
- Influencing decisions at the highest levels of government to help shape public policy
- Raising funds to support public health programs, including research and information-sharing campaigns
Access to care is a key area of concern for public health advocates. The factors that inhibit individuals from accessing care include race or ethnicity, age, disability, socioeconomic status, and geographic location. A lack of health insurance can mean that people don’t have the safety net to pay for high healthcare costs if they become sick. Structural barriers such as remote geographic locations, lack of access to transportation, or scarce healthcare resources mean people can’t get to healthcare centers, clinics, or hospitals.
Other factors driving health disparities include legal obstacles and language barriers, which predominantly affect immigrant populations. Unless immigrants meet U.S. residency requirements, Medicaid can’t cover them, and non-native English speakers may have difficulty with English-language health forms.