RN Patient Advocates Can Help Your Dental Patients—and Your Practice, Too

Teri Dreher, RN, iRNPA


Do some of your patients have trouble managing their oral healthcare? Do you worry about your senior orphans—elderly patients without family who struggle to care for themselves? Private patient advocates can help bridge this gap, ensuring your patients get the extra support they need. 

Private patient advocates, one of the fastest-growing healthcare professions, exist to help patients navigate our increasingly complex healthcare system. But they offer benefits to dentists, too.

Who are these people, exactly? In terms of credentials, patient advocates hold graduate certificates from one of about 20 university programs. A small but growing number also hold national certification from the Patient Advocate Certification Board, evidenced by the Board Certified Patient Advocate (BCPA) credential.  

The most medically experienced patient advocates are also veteran registered nurses, known as RN patient advocates. If you haven’t interacted with one yet, chances are you will soon. And once you better understand the role they can play, you may wish to recommend them to select patients who require extra help managing their healthcare.

Once an individual or family hires a private patient advocate, he or she can perform a wide range of tasks on their behalf. 

Acting as Liaison Between Patient and Physician

On most days, you may only have limited time to spend with each patient. However, some patients may need much more than that to thoroughly understand their dental condition and treatment plan. Often, they are afraid of dental work. An RN patient advocate can provide the detailed explanation that these patients need, answering questions, explaining terms, and rephrasing information until their patients thoroughly understand it.

In five minutes, you can communicate information to an RN patient advocate that would take 20 minutes to communicate to the patient. By the same token, the patient advocate can bring you up to speed on your patient’s status in a fraction of the time the patient could. Patient advocates save dentists time while facilitating better two-way communication.

Providing Follow-up Care at Home 

Similarly, RN patient advocates can interact with patients where you can’t—in their homes. They can make sure a patient is following your orders while monitoring medications, diet, and pain. One of the advantages of RN patient advocates is that, when visiting a patient at home, they can often spot early signs of trouble and intervene before a dental health issue becomes a full-blown crisis.

Looking Out for Senior Orphans

Chances are, you have a few elderly patients who are alone in the world. They may be dealing with complex medical problems or struggling with declining cognitive abilities. Either way, given their limited comprehension and high risk of noncompliance, you dread getting one of those 2 am emergency phone calls one day.   

An RN patient advocate can act as a safety net for these challenging, fragile elderly patients. From accompanying them on dental visits to watching for side effects of treatments and medications, a patient advocate can make sure these senior orphans won’t fall through the cracks in the system.

Providing Referrals for Patients and Dentists 

RN patient advocates also make excellent referral sources for dentists. They are always on the lookout for quality primary care dentists and specialists to refer to clients, particularly those who take a more open, holistic approach to healthcare and have a special rapport with seniors.

Be Proactive About Patient Advocacy

Because patient advocates are paid solely by patients or their families, they don’t cost dentists a penny. However, they will save you time and frustration, while helping to ensure your patients get the care you’ve prescribed. In short, they help keep the patient at the center of the healthcare system, and that benefits everyone.  

At some point—maybe already—you’ll have a patient who could really benefit from an RN patient advocate. Why not find a local resource whom you feel comfortable referring patients to? Ask your peers (chances are, one or two names will keep coming up) or visit the Alliance of Health Care Advocates at aphadvocates.org to find an RN patient advocate in your area. Because, according to the American Medical Association, “Everyone today needs a patient advocate.”   

Ms. Dreher, RN, iRNPA, is an award-winning RN patient advocate and a pioneer in the growing field of private patient advocacy. A critical care nurse for more than 30 years, today she is the owner and founder of NShore Patient Advocates, the largest advocacy company in the Chicago area. She was awarded her industry’s highest honor, the APHA H. Kenneth Schueler Patient Advocacy Compass Award, and was recently among the first to be awarded professional certification by the Patient Advocate Certification Board. Her book, Patient Advocacy Matters, is now in its second printing.

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