Frequently Asked Questions

For Patients and Family Members


What is an independent patient advocate?

An independent patient advocate is a healthcare consultant who works directly for you.  Because we are paid by you (and not by an insurance company or health system), decisions are made according to your preferences.

How can Serenity Cancer Patient Advocates help me?

There are a myriad of ways in which SCPA assists cancer patients.  Broadly speaking, we help in five ways.  We expedite appointments.  We decrease confusion.  We decrease financial risk.  We increase safety.  We help providers give you more efficient care.

Read the specifics of What We Can Do for you.

Read the 5 Ways To Hire Us.

What is a board-certified patient advocate?  What material does the exam cover?

In March of 2018, the first patient advocacy board certification exam was given.  Now, there are nearly 700 of us nationwide who have passed the exam.  

The exam aims to ensure that patient advocates truly know how to support their patient clients.  There are 41 topics (which you can see here) on the 3 hour exam that fall into the following six broad categories: 1) ethical, legal and practice standards; 2) communication and interpersonal relationships; 3) healthcare access, finance and management; 4) empowerment, autonomy, rights and equity; 5) medical and healthcare system knowledge; and 6) scope of practice and transparency.

What is an oncology patient navigator?

Oncology Patient Navigators and Board-Certified Patient Advocates are schooled in many of the same areas. 

The Oncology Patient Navigation Certification, however, focuses more deeply on cancer-specific challenges and uses cancer as a lens through which advocacy education is provided.

Successful certificate completion requires passing tests on 20 different topics.  (The education is provided by the George Washington Cancer Institute in Washington, D.C.).  You can view my certification here.

How much does it cost to hire an independent patient advocate?

There is a considerable amount of free information in our blog and on our free resources page.  

You can join our Confidence Call.  You get 20 minutes to ask me questions on a conference call.  Then you will learn from other patients' and caregivers' questions. You'll learn a ton and then you can tip me afterwards--but only if you're satisfied.

You can also talk to us privately via phone, Skype, Zoom or FaceTime for 1/2, 1 or 2 hours.

Finally, if you’d like to utilize our concierge service, we offer a free twenty minute initial consultation.  If we decide to proceed, we’ll meet for a more detailed discussion.  48 hours after that meeting, we’ll have a detailed plan to quickly move through your journey.

For more info, check out the 5 Ways To Hire Us.

Will my health insurance cover independent patient advocacy?

No, but this is a good thing.  Health insurers do not cover our services.  If they did, they would dictate what we can and cannot do, rendering us less effective.  They would force us to push you towards less expensive treatments, which is something we have to fight against anyways.

Be aware that some insurers provide you with a “patient advocate”.  This service ranges between having a “chatbot” (a robot that responds to instant messages) and having a phone-based insurance company employee.  I'll reiterate that their goal is to have you save their money (even though you already paid your premium) by pushing you towards less expensive treatment options.

Despite insurance not paying for our services, you may be able to use health savings accounts dollars.  (See the next question below).  

Can I use Health Savings Account dollars for your services?

The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, our industry association, is somewhat certain you can.  It has determined that patient advocacy expenses are likely covered. However, no one will truly know until someone is audited by the IRS.  You can read much more detail on this topic at the APHA website, here.

Will my employer help to pay for independent patient advocacy?

If you are willing to disclose to your employer that you have cancer, they may be willing to subsidize (or entirely cover) the cost.  Employers are concerned about two things: absenteeism and presenteeism.

Absenteeism, of course, encompasses the consequences of the cancer patient’s absence.  That can include increased stress, decreased morale, lessened productivity, and additional overtime pay for those who have to do your job.  It can also include decreased workplace safety, and compromised supervisor productivity.

As you can see, absenteeism, by definition, reduces corporate profits.

Presenteeism also reduces profit, but for a very different reason.  Here, the cancer patient actually shows up to work, but spends most of his or her time distracted, looking for the right doctor, researching treatments, learning medical lingo, fighting their bills, etc.  If the patient’s supervisor isn’t aware of the diagnosis, they may assume that all is well until it’s too late.  Balls have been dropped.  Clients are upset.  Goals have been missed.

Either way, HR teams typically recognize that it may be worthwhile to have their employees’ care managed by an independent patient advocate.

There are some potential downsides to disclosing your health status to HR, however; please consult with your lawyer before doing so.

But my cancer center put me in touch with a care coordinator.  Why do I need an independent advocate?

These care coordinators are often very good resources.

There are two reasons that you shouldn't compare them to patient advocates:

First, their time is limited because they often manage more than one hundred patients simultaneously.  We manage no more than eight at a time.

Second, their allegiance is to their employer, not to you.  Patient advocates can easily act in accordance with your demands because we are paid by you.

Care coordinators can be great people, but they can't be compared with independent patient advocates.

How do you protect my privacy?

Although independent patient advocates are not "covered entities" under HIPAA law, Serenity Cancer Patient Advocates takes strict precautions to protect your health information.  

This 26 page document outlines the steps we have taken.  Most importantly, we don’t carry around paper binders full of your medical information which can be misplaced or stolen.

Do you give medical advice?

No. We cannot and do not provide medical advice.  Even if patient advocates have been nurses or doctors in the past, they cannot legally act as one while performing advocacy services.  

Read this document if you'd like to understand what kinds of questions we can answer.

Do you give legal advice?

No.  While we do have relationships with probate lawyers, we are not lawyers ourselves and do not provide legal advice.

Do you give financial advice?

No.  We will inevitably discuss your finances, but our goal therein is to understand what your capacity and willingness are to pay for different treatments at different facilities.  This will lead to thorough pros and cons lists that will assist you in making a good decision for yourself.  We will never direct your decision in any way.

Call Us: (424) 272-0535‬

Santa Monica, CA 90401

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We never provide medical, financial or legal advice.

©2020 by Serenity Cancer Patient Advocates