What Shall We Call Ourselves?

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What Shall We Call Ourselves?

I’ve just returned from a marvelous week visiting with, and participating in, patient empowerment and advocacy experiences that included activities like video, webinars, panel discussions and pot luck dinners. A whirlwind! More impressive, however, is the variety of interests and skills of the wonderful people I met and worked with.  From patients, to patient safety experts, to providers, to educators, to administrators, to hospital employees, to – yes – patient advocates. You can imagine the discussions that took place!  During the week, my brain was going a million-thoughts-per-hour as we covered dozens of topics related to both empowerment and advocacy.  So many great ideas were shared, with some grand ideas for moving forward to help patients. One theme popped up almost as much as any other;  that is – the confusion over the title “patient advocate” and what it means to those who want to become one – or may need one. This is not a new question. In fact, in meeting many of you over the past few years, the same concern has arisen…. exactly what is a patient advocate?  How can we use the same title for a medical/navigational advocate as we use for the person who reviews and adjusts medical bills?  or the same title as the person who volunteers for the local (name your disease) charitable organization? or the person who is supposed to provide customer service type services in the hospital (but is employed by the risk management department to allay lawsuits?)  etc etc. Yes, there are some variations on “patient advocate” – but I don’t think they really clarify:  health advocates, or nurse advocates (excuse me – isn’t “nurse advocate” redundant?) or patient navigators, especially knowing that the term “navigator” seems to have been co-opted for some cancers where government grants and pharmaceutical companies control the conversation. Then there’s the cross-over to case management and geriatric care…. again… confusing US – but perhaps even more importantly – the general public.  There is additional cross-over with home health, too. Exacerbating the conversation is the fact that to many people, the term “advocate” has a negative…


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