How to Be Your Own Healthcare Advocate

By Kelly Davis

Anyone facing a serious illness can tell you that managing appointments, understanding treatment options and dealing with insurance can sometimes cause as much frustration and anxiety as the diagnosis itself. That’s why case managers have become an integral part of patient care, helping folks with serious and chronic illnesses—and their caregivers and family members—navigate the healthcare system.

Jennifer Hagan, who’s been a nurse for three decades and a nurse case manager for the last 12 years, said her goal is to help her patients become their own best advocate—to “steer their own healthcare bus,” as she puts it.

“When patients are educated about their medical care and the services and treatment plans that are available to them,” Hagan says, “they’re better able to make decisions that honor their wishes.”

Case managers can have a background in nursing or social work. They might coordinate care for someone who’s recently been discharged from the hospital, or serve as a liaison with a patient’s insurance company to make sure needed services are covered. Case managers can help address the physical and psychological challenges an illness might cause, or simply be a friendly face that patients can count on seeing at appointments.

They also do a lot of work behind the scenes, Hagan says, serving as key members of a patient’s medical team.

“Case managers must be knowledgeable about all areas of healthcare delivery so that they can provide the unique options available to each of their patients,” she says.

Hagan, who works as a system clinical specialist and nurse educator for Sharp Healthcare, teaches Extension’s Case Management Intensive course. The class explores the multidisciplinary expertise case managers bring to the patient relationship and, Hagan says, provides “the foundational blocks” necessary for nurses looking to become case managers. The class is also a requirement for anyone who wants to earn Extension’s Specialized Certificate in Case Management. The seven-week certificate program prepares participants to take the exam to become a Certified Case Manager, a designation that offers an advantage in a career field that’s grown exponentially over the last few decades and is expected to keep growing.

Special thanks to Jennifer Hagan for the tips on advocating for ourselves.Learn more about how to become a case manager or get trained in a variety of healthcare professions on our website.


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