Robin Shapiro of  Allied Health Advocates in Seattle, WA talks about her career.  You can find her and her firm at www.ahadvocates.com and follow her on her Twitter feed in the sidebar.  

What do you do for a living?

I run and and operate a professional health advocates company Allied Health Advocates in Seattle, WA. Our mission is to transform patient’s experiences with the health care system to make it the most positive and efficient outcome possible.

How would you describe what you do?

We help people understand the health care system, their health issues and how to get the best care possible. We do that by understanding our clients, accompanying them to medical appointments and helping them identify what their health care goals are.

What does your work entail?

Our Advocates typically meet with clients to understand their medical situation and what their goals are. Sometimes people are stuck with a diagnosis that they don’t understand or they believe they need more information before making decisions. We then work with them to create a plan, including how we will evaluate if we were successful. For me, part of my job is to meet with people and companies who might want to use our services or who have clients who may want to hire us. This includes companies, insurance brokers, estate planning attorneys, retirement homes and others.

What’s a typical work week like?

A typical week will include everything from screening potential clients, to marketing meetings, to public talks (we give public talks on a variety of topics). Every day is different!

How did you get started?

My background is in Communications and I previously founded companies that work with biotech, pharmaceutical companies and voluntary health organizations to find patients who want to share their personal experiences with diseases and products to treat them. We also connect patients, one-to-one to share these experiences. There is nothing like talking to someone who has walked in your shoes to help you see how you can manage through a situation. I love what these companies do (for more information, visit: www.hastrategies.com; www.phperspectives.com and www.hpgroupllc.com)

Through my work with patients, I saw a tremendous vacuum in services to help people understand how to interact and navigate the health care system. It’s complicated and when you are feeling crummy, even the smartest person in the world would have challenges trying to get answers and information to make their medical decisions. I met my partner, Beth Droppert, RN, BSN, who served as the nurse for her family and this role as Health Advocate for most of her life. She wanted to start a business so that everyone could have access to a ‘nurse in the family,’ so she and I formed the company in 2008.

What do you like about what you do?

I love how much we help both patients and health care providers. It seems like every day I hear another story about how our Advocates save time, trouble-shoot a complex communications issues or offer a potential solution in understand an insurance benefit. We are working for solely for the patient and the patient wins in this practice!

What do you dislike?

It is challenging that most people don’t know that there are private Health Advocates in their community. This is a new field and it is frustrating that people don’t know about us and our value.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

We are either paid directly by the patient or by a group (example: an employer) as a benefit.

How much money do Patient Advocates make?

We are paid $150 per hour or groups pay a retainer (lump sum) every month to have us on board. Those figures vary depending on how many employees and what type of issues people need us for.

How much money do you make starting out as a Patient Advocate?

Our Advocates make $50 an hour and they have between 10 and 40 years of nursing experience. Some Advocates charge between $60 up to $200 an hour based on experience and a particular niche.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to become a patient advocate?

We hire nurses with decades of experience who have superior communications skills and can understand how to navigate and NOT provide direct care to patients. In our profession, there are no certification/credentials, but there are a few programs that are offering education.

What is most challenging about what you do?

The most challenging is educating people about the fact that there are private health advocates available to help and that it is worth the money to engage us.

What is most rewarding?

The most rewarding aspect is when we can help a patient resolve a problem effectively, like when two specialists disagree on a course of action and we can bring the specialists together to talk and prioritize what action will best meet a patient’s goals – that is a dream come true!

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

I would suggest this as a follow-on career for someone with decades of experience and financial flexibility because there are few jobs that offer a steady wage. If you are looking for a financially viable career, I would do this work in addition to another job until the Health Advocate market matures and consumers understand what it is!

How much time off do you get/take?

It really depends on how many clients and other activities are going on.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

People think that we are care managers (like social workers), but we work solely for our patient client, so we are not motivated to please anyone except our client.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

My goal would be to have Allied Health Advocates in the top cities and markets throughout the country available to any patient and/or family member who needs us.