What Is A Patient advocate? WellBe Founder Adrienne Nolan-Smith Explains It’s Importance & How It Relates to Holistic Health Advocacy

WellBe founder Adrienne Nolan-Smith, who is a board-certified patient advocate and a health advocate
What is a patient advocate? Ten years ago, when I was a caretaker for my mom as she battled mental illness, I didn’t have an answer to this question. Now I do, and I want to explain to you what patient or health advocacy is, and why it’s so important.
As I took care of my mom, I remember feeling so lost and wishing I had some kind of support. I envisioned a health investigator, lawyer, confidant, coach, assistant all in one person. Someone who knew how to find published research I could take to her doctors, which tests she should be getting and wasn’t, and who could effectively fight for her to have a more holistic approach to her care and not just endless drugs. 
Most of all, I wanted someone who knew that my objective was to get her healed and do it as naturally as possible, not just manage her illness indefinitely. The doctors seeing my mom seemed completely disinterested in achieving this goal. I wanted someone who would help me fight for it. 
When I got busy with work or my own life during her illness, and things got delayed or I wasn’t doing as much as I wanted for her, I wished I’d had someone who could keep her healing and her case moving forward for me. After her death, I thought a lot about how much someone like this would have helped me. 
Later in my life, when my mild thyroid issues became more severe and I learned about all the reasons I needed to get my thyroid health in good shape, I also wished I had someone who could help me find the right practitioners to help me heal my Hashimoto’s naturally. I wanted someone who could collect research and books and podcasts on the topic and distill it down for me since I was running a new business and did not have time to read or research as much I wanted to. 
I needed someone who would set up a plan and help me stay focused on solving this problem because life always seemed to get in the way. Even though I knew my Hashimoto’s was affecting my energy and every other system in my body, as well as my long-term disease risk, it was still “manageable.” Because of that, it was easy to put off doing what I needed to do to heal. 
I had several different doctors telling me different things about my thyroid and doing different testing, and all I wanted was one person making sure all these providers were talking to each other, and ensuring the right testing was being done. I wanted this person to also hold me accountable for the daily practices that would help heal my thyroid, like diet, stress management, and supplements. 
What I wanted was a patient advocate. 

What Is a Patient Advocate Anyway?

So, what is a patient advocate anyway? Generally, a patient advocate helps people get the information they need to make decisions about their healthcare and then works with their doctors and practitioners to make sure the person gets what they need in order to heal and receive the best care possible. Patient advocates have emerged to help deal with the skyrocketing number of chronic illnesses and the complex and confusing conventional healthcare system.
Patient advocates provide guidance on all aspects of healthcare, including:
  • Identifying the right doctor or practitioner for someone’s unique healthcare issue, preferences, and budget
  • Bringing new research and treatment options to the table
  • Reviewing potential treatment plans 
  • Asking important questions and pressing to get answers
  • Keeping insurance claims, spending, and billing organized
  • Helping someone execute a treatment plan in their everyday lives, when doctors tend to be hard to get in touch with and where most of the healing really happens.
“When one actually needs to access care, even getting an appointment can be enormously difficult,” says Ruth Linden, Ph.D., founder, and president of Tree of Life Health Advocates. “In addition, communicating with physicians can also be immensely difficult because often appointments are condensed into 15- or 20-minute time slots, and patients may have many questions that can’t be addressed in that short period of time.”

Why I Decided to Get My Patient Advocacy Certification

I founded WellBe with a mission to help people become empowered in their health so they could avoid the broken healthcare system as much as possible, and heal health issues naturally when they did arise. It wasn’t until a year after I first launched this website that I decided to sit for the board exam to get my patient advocacy certification or BCPA. I was lucky in that I’d spent several years working within the conventional healthcare system before I took the board exam, so I had a lot of knowledge about how it worked and how a person could best navigate it.
If you think you might want to work with me to figure out and heal chronic health symptoms or diseases, or for support through a healthcare issue, schedule a free discovery call today: 

Patient Advocates and Medical Error: Why Patient Advocates Are So Important Today

Preventable medical error is now the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer, according to a study from Johns Hopkins. Another report, this one published in the Journal of Patient Safety, showed that an estimated 440,000 people die each year in this country as a result of medical error.
These concerning statistics are just two reasons why one might want to consider hiring a patient advocate. Even getting a small procedure or taking a medication for a nagging health issue you don’t consider to be that serious could become much worse as a result of medical error. Medical error aside, you could also make a small issue worse if you don’t understand all of your treatment options and agree to something with harmful side effects.
The complexities of the healthcare system and health insurance can be stressful, confusing, and overwhelming even under the best of circumstances — not to mention when you’re dealing with an illness.

Why Most Patient Advocates Don’t Focus on Holistic Health or Integrative and Functional Medicine

Because the conventional healthcare system is the one that has grown to have a high number of medical errors and complicated policies and procedures, not to mention being largely ineffective at healing or reversing chronic health issues, most patient advocates are well versed in that system. This makes sense because that’s where most people get healthcare and where they need the most help. 
But the problem is when a patient advocate is only knowledgeable about a system that is problematic and doesn’t have a good set of tools for healing chronic health issues (the majority of which are diet- and lifestyle-related). In this situation, the patient advocate doesn’t have a better way to help a person heal. And that is the real objective, right? 
It’s true those patient advocates can better navigate a person within a broken system, but to me, that’s like having a bigger spotlight on the iceberg so you see it earlier, but still continuing to steer the Titanic straight into it. 

A Better Solution: A Holistic Health Patient Advocate or Health Advocate

All of my research, work, and personal experiences have shown me that when someone needs to heal a chronic health issue (whether that’s a full-blown disease or just some nagging chronic symptoms), a holistic approach is paramount. That means that alterations to their diet, lifestyle, mindset, and stress levels are essential, and also that functional or integrative medicine testing might also be required. The latter is necessary in order to understand nutritional deficiencies and any sneaky underlying causes or contributors to health issues. 
A good functional or integrative doctor might be able to help someone with all these components of healing. However, they usually don’t have time to really understand what a patient is willing or able to do, and so they offer solutions that are lacking, like just giving out a bunch of supplements or herbs, or putting someone on the same overwhelming at-home plan they give to all of their patients. When the patient inevitably doesn’t follow through with the plan, the time and money they spent seeing the doctor are wasted. Which leads me to my next point…

There Is Not One Kind of Doctor for Everyone, and No One Doctor Can Heal Everyone

For many of the health recovery stories I have had the honor of telling for WellBe, and from my own experiences, I know that it can often take several different doctors to figure out the root cause of a chronic health issue or come up with a treatment plan that works for you. 
Why? Each one of us has trillions of different microbes, life experiences, home and work environments, motivations, mindsets, etc. And each doctor has different training, different interests, and different levels of experience treating different things. They might have taken one elective in medical school on the issue you are seeing them about, so it’s unfair to think they can remember everything they learned perhaps several decades before! If you think that because someone is a doctor they must know how to help you heal a chronic health issue, you will be incredibly disappointed. 
Once you accept that not every doctor you go to will necessarily be able to help you heal –even the functional or integrative doctor– you’ll become more empowered in your health because you’ll see that ultimately, you are the master of your own healing.

Why I Consider Myself Both a Health Advocate and a Patient Advocate

I consider myself both a holistic health advocate and a patient advocate because I know there are two important components to helping someone heal a chronic health issue: 
1) Help them see that everything in their body is connected and that the 100 choices they make a day are their true healthcare, and
2) Research for them, fight for them and be there for them throughout their healing journey, because inevitably a doctor or practitioner they had high hopes for doesn’t work out, or they suffer a setback, or they begin to lose steam or give up, and those are the pivotal moments that separate those who heal their health issues fully and get their life back from those who manage or suffer until they eventually lose the fight. 
Being able to be there for people at those dark moments, to help them when they are starting to give up or when they think it’s too hard, is the most fulfilling and important work that I can do. I’m there to say “I’ve got you” when no other doctors or offices are calling, and “keep going” when they are starting to see progress and begin to ease up or get busy and start to fall off their plan.

How is a Holistic Health Advocate Different From A Regular Patient Advocate?

I’ve already outlined what patient advocates do, but holistic health advocates do something even more specialized and comprehensive. As a holistic health advocate, I:
  • Do the time-consuming research about what all of your treatment options are and then break it down for you in a way that’s easy to understand 
  • Connect the dots between your seemingly disconnected symptoms and bring you research that might help you determine the potential root cause.
  • Use my network of functional and integrative medicine doctors and practitioners and treatments to get you to the best option based on their location, specialty, fit, insurance, cost, availability, and success with your issue.
  • Coordinate with and advocate on your behalf with any doctors, insurance companies, hospitals, testing centers, etc (conventional or integrative).
  • Help you discover and implement the things you may not be doing at home and in your daily life that are proven to improve your health, and that a doctor wouldn’t traditionally help you with.
  • Save you money and time by going down fewer bad paths, and reduce your stress, anxiety, and overwhelm. 
Most of all I can do everything in my power to help you get your health back and heal the root cause of your symptoms faster than if you go at it alone.
If you think you might want to work with me to figure out and heal chronic health symptoms or diseases, or for support through a healthcare issue, schedule a free discovery call today: 
You can also listen to an audio version of this article on The WellBe Podcast.
Citations:
  1. James, John T. A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care. Journal of Patient Safety: September 2013 – Volume 9 – Issue 3 – p 122-128
  2. Makary, M. Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US. BMJ 2016; 353. 
  3. Willet, W. et al. Prevention of Chronic Disease by Means of Diet and Lifestyle Changes. Disease Control Priorities in Developing Countries. 2nd edition.

 

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