What Is Patient Advocacy?

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

In the last few years there has been a boom in people wanting to be patient advocates. Not the paid positions that are filled by someone who works for a hospital or medical provider, but those actually affected by chronic pain – patients and caregivers -- who freely volunteer their time, energy, and efforts to help the pain community.

Patient advocates work to support a cause or public policy to improve patient care and better our community. They write to legislators, testify on behalf of pain patients, share social media posts, encourage research, speak up publicly, and talk about bettering the pain community.

Other names we could be called are patient champions, supporters, backers, proponents, spokespersons, campaigners, fighters, and crusaders.

There is a lot of chatter in the pain community about what patient advocates should be doing, so I thought it would be good to point out some things an advocate should not do.

An advocate does not get involved for their own sake. Hopefully, their advocacy helps their own pain care, but that should not be the main goal of their actions.

Advocates should not take on the role to “get even” with someone, whether it’s a doctor, hospital, politician or another advocate. Far too often people get mad because they can’t get the care they need and speak up only to get back at whoever they think wronged them. Being a patient advocate should not be at the expense of others or to seek power and influence.

There are many types of advocacy, but what will ensure success and make a difference is to avoid the pitfalls of advocacy. If you are mentoring others, be sure to have strict confidentiality as health topics are a very sensitive subject. Refrain from abusive conduct, even if the people you are assisting are abusive. Remove yourself if that becomes the case.

Some people just don’t want the help or advocacy you offer. It could be a cultural conflict, mental issue, or just that you don’t gel with them for a variety of reasons. Be okay with that, let it go and help those who actually want your help.

You should be trustworthy and honest in all the actions you take. An advocate is willing to disclose all personal conflicts of interest to those they are advocating for and with, so that any perceived or actual biases are known. We should not ever compromise our personal beliefs while advocating for others.

Advocacy is not creating more conflict or strife. A good patient advocate is going to work to solve problems, not create new ones. Advocates should not try to change what is working, but instead should work to stop unfair practices, abuse, and the under/over treatment of patients. We need to increase treatment options, services, and proper and timely care.

When we remove those barriers, advocates increase society’s ability to offer full opportunities for pain sufferers.

Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.