Health care advocacy program is state’s first

Degree will prepare professionals to guide patients through system

St_Francis_Nursing_-34A new bachelor’s degree at the University of Indianapolis is designed to fill an urgent need in the health care industry: helping patients to navigate it. The Health Care Consumer Advocacy program is the first in the state designed to prepare graduates for careers supporting and promoting the rights and needs of patients and their families in a changing and often confusing marketplace. Health care consumer advocates work in settings that include hospitals, medical practices, insurance companies, long-term care facilities, and public and nonprofit agencies, often under such titles as “patient care coordinator,” “patient case manager,” or “client services manager.” Traditionally, these roles have been filled by nurses and social workers who have to learn on the job about the complexities of financial management, information technology, and industry policy and terminology.

The advocacy role is increasingly important in the era of the Affordable Care Act, with providers compelled to make services more efficient and affordable, and many patients entering the market with health insurance for the first time. More services are delivered at retail clinics, stand-alone labs, and other outpatient settings, rather than traditional hospitals and doctors’ offices.

“The primary source of health care used to be a hospital setting, and that’s no longer the case,” says Norma Hall, director of graduate programs in UIndy’s School of Nursing, who assisted in establishing the new program. “It’s difficult for patients, especially if they haven’t had health insurance before. We need to help them understand how to make the best use of their coverage and find the best services in any medical setting.”

Some health care consumer advocates do not serve individual patients but instead are employed by health care providers to promote legislative and policy changes. Others may set up their own businesses and operate independently. A National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants has formed to promote standards in the field, and a national certification is under development. The UIndy degree program is offered in accelerated five-week evening courses by UIndy’s School for Adult Learning. It can be completed in two to three years, depending on the student’s previous education history. Development of the program began two years ago, when the University conducted a feasibility study among representatives of medical practices, long-term care facilities, hospitals, and insurance providers and identified a strong demand for professionals with expertise in advocacy. The curriculum was developed with input from faculty in UIndy’s School of Nursing, College of Health Sciences, School of Psychological Sciences, and Center for Aging & Community.

Indiana health care providers currently have hundreds of vacancies for positions that require exactly these skills, says Judith Apple-VanAlstine, dean of the School for Adult Learning. Starting annual salaries can range from $32,000 to $82,000, she says.

More information is available at (317) 788-3393 or www.uindy.edu/school-for-adult-learning/health-care-consumer-advocacy.