In-Patient (Hospital) Advocates: An Underutilized Resource

Joseph R. Anticaglia
Medical Advisory Board

Being admitted into a hospital is stressful. Whether it’s an elective or an emergency admission, the uneasiness of the unknown, unanswered questions, heighten anxiety. In-patient advocates work in hospitals and help to lessen a patient’s apprehension and ease the transition from admission to discharge.

A 59 year old widow, Joan Myers with no immediate family, was directed to the admission desk on the ground floor of a hospital and handed a bunch of papers. She completed the paperwork and was asked to take a seat, and told “someone will accompany you to your room on the third floor.”

About 35 minutes later, a person from the escort serviced guided her and a friend to the third floor nurses’ station. “Hi Mrs. Myers. You have been assigned to room 328, and Janet will help you get settled in, Your surgery is scheduled for this morning at 11 a. m. If you have any questions, please let us know? “Thank you” ..

After settling into her room and dressed in a surgical gown, thoughts ricocheted around her head. “What if the lump in my breast is cancerous? What if there are complications? How long will I be in the hospital How will I manage at home? Will my insurance cover the cost of my bills?”

Shortly after Joan arrived to her room, a friendly woman knocked on the door, entered and said: “Hello Mrs. Myers. My name is Tisha and I’m the hospital’s patient advocate.” She briefly explained the role of the in-patient advocate and how it might be useful in Joan’s situation. She ended by saying; “If you have any questions, please, do call me at this number. I’ll be in touch.”

In-Patient Advocates

Many hospitals have trained, patient advocates who assist patients navigate through the complexities of the health care system. The advocate can help in a variety of ways:

  • Enhance communications between doctors and nurses
  • Be a voice for the patient’s questions and complaints
  • Answer questions about insurance coverage
  • Explanation of hospital bills, consulting fees and payment responsibility
  • Review discharge instructions
  • Help with follow-up care; for example, physical therapy
  • Rehab facilities options
  • How to obtain medical records
  • Offer encouragement and emotional support.

In addition, the advocate — also called “patient representative”- can work as a bridge between the patient, employers and other third parties to address their concerns.

Mrs. Myers underwent surgery that morning. A biopsy of the breast lesion was immediately sent to the pathology department to rule out cancer. While she was still on the operating table, in a matter of minutes, the pathologist’s report was read out loud by a nurse and looked at by the surgeon, “Squamous cell carcinoma with positive lymph nodes.”

Prior to surgery, Joan and her surgeon discussed the possibility that the growth might be cancer. If the growth was cancerous, she agreed that the doctor should proceed with more extensive surgery. What she didn’t anticipate was the length of the hospital stay, need for assistance at home, the extent of the swollen left arm, rehab, transportation challenges and the onslaught of medical bills from all directions.

The hospital’s patient advocate, Tisha, organized a concerted effort to get Joan well. She talked with Joan’s friends and suggested they work together to cook meals, transport her to and from the doctors’ offices and other appointments. Tisha took a special interest in Joan’s third party challenges. Three months after the operation, Joan was feeling great physically and emotionally. In-patient advocates want to help. It’s worth the effort to contact them if you or a loved one are admitted to the hospital


Depending on your condition, friends and family can serve as advocates while you’re an in-patient. They can be with you in your hospital room and make sure you get the right medications at the right time. They can ask questions for you, take notes during nurses and doctors visits, alert the nursing staff when you need assistance and let them know when something is not right.

They can ask for discharge instructions a day before going home, go down to the hospital’s pharmacy to fill out prescriptions for you before being discharged and make travel arrangements for you to go home. They can request to speak with a social worker, or in-patient advocate. concerning insurance questions as well as home and extended care issues.

This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.