Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Private Patient Advocates a Growing, Yet Costly, Trend in Health Care

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Private Patient Advocates a Growing, Yet Costly, Trend in Health Care

Article excerpt

CHICAGO - Barbara Salata was anxious, couldn't sleep and told her family it felt like she was having a heart attack. The 77-year-old Libertyville woman would forget things and generally "wasn't the mom that we knew," said her son, Bob Salata Jr.

Despite a sleep apnea diagnosis and a sleeping pill prescription, Barbara Salata wasn't getting better.

"It became obvious ... we need to get a new team to look at this differently," her son said. "I needed someone to listen to her. We were desperate to find someone who could find some direction for my mother's health care."

So the family hired a private patient advocate, a growing field of health care professionals. The advocate, Teri Dreher, suggested changing Barbara Salata's medications, which the family says alleviated the most troubling symptoms. Ms. Dreher worked six months to find a new team of doctors for Ms. Salata, who said she now feels more like herself.

Her family credits the changes to Ms. Dreher's fresh perspective and her time managing Ms. Salata's care.

"It was a service I wasn't even aware was available," Barbara Salata said.

That's because private patient advocacy remains relatively uncommon, said Trisha Torrey, founder of the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates.

Private patient advocates are not affiliated with hospitals or doctors. Instead they work as private consultants for patients and help manage health needs. Services vary from attending doctor visits, researching medical treatments and helping with medical equipment purchases to handling insurance claims, disputing hospital bills and scheduling appointments.

Advocates say they fill a gap in the health care system by making sure patients - or, as they call them, clients - are educated. They say their involvement relieves stress, especially for those dealing with serious or chronic illness, and that their vigilance and expertise can avert medical errors.

Others point out that many hospitals already offer patient advocates and that the benefits of a private advocate go only to those who can afford to pay. Depending on the advocate and the services, clients can expect to pay a private advocate $75 to $300 an hour, Ms. Torrey said.

And despite college certification programs, the budding industry has yet to establish an accreditation process - something those in the field say is in the works but still a ways off.

Professional advocates say not everyone has a friend or relative to lean on, and it can be hard for someone who's sick to manage care for themselves.

While many hospitals have patient advocate-type positions, Ms. Torrey said they ultimately work for the hospital, not the patient. "An advocate has to have allegiance to whoever is writing the paycheck," she said.

Ms. …

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