Patient Advocacy and What it Means

by Lisa McPhee, Open Arms Content Writer | February 1, 2023

person in blue shirt and white and black pants

Patient advocacy. What is this term? 

As a healthcare provider (HCP) myself, it has been taught to us as it is how one is to provide care for a patient. These are the rules HCPs use in our day-to-day practice. They are as follows:

  • Always treat the patient with respect and dignity 
  • Commit to treating each patient equally regardless of their age, race, gender, religion, or life circumstances 
  • And above all, protect the patient from undue harm and/or suffering 

It is no secret that healthcare providers are not immune to errors, time constraints, and miscommunication, after all, we are human. That being said: that does not make it all right. We change and strive to do better. The Canadian and provincial healthcare systems are actively working to improve and address these faults. They have established legislation at the federal and provincial levels and many hospitals have adopted a Patient and Family Centered Care mission. We are still in the process of ironing out many wrinkles including aging population, aging workforce, and not to mention the ongoing impact of COVID-19. One must keep in mind, that Canada is a relatively young country, and therefore, still in its policies are still in its infancy when compared to other more established countries. 

It was not until 2001, that the Canadian Patient’s Bill of Rights (Bill C-261) was passed in the House of Commons. In this bill, it establishes the following patient rights: 

  • the right to be fully informed of one’s medical condition 
  • the right to be advised on the treatment options available 
  • the right to be involved in treatment decisions
  • the right to be informed of the qualifications and experience of healthcare professionals involved in their care 
  • the right to receive respectful, considerate, and compassionate care 
  • the right to confidential communications with healthcare professionals 
  • the right to have access to, and correct (if required), to one’s own health records 
  • the right to have health records kept confidential and not be used for any other purpose without written consent 
  • the right to designate a person to exercise rights on the patient’s behalf if the patient is unable to do so due to physical or mental incapacity 
  • the right to be informed of all rights and responsibilities under the bill and under other laws of Canada or a province with respect to public health services 

“The definition of patient advocacy… can be summarized as a person or organization that assists patients in navigating and understanding their healthcare journey.”

Each province and territory have their own legislation in which can be expected to be followed in those individual places. To find more information about these individual provinces/territories patient’s rights, click here. 

But what happens when the maze of the Canadian healthcare system, allows for patients to “fall through the cracks?” Where the timely and effective treatment needs are not met? When a patient remains undiagnosed or misdiagnosed? This is where a patient advocate or an advocacy organization comes into play. 

The definition of patient advocacy according to Wikipedia & the National Cancer Institute can be summarized as a person or organization that assists patients in navigating and understanding their healthcare journey  A patient advocate helps patients communicate with their healthcare providers so they get the information they need to make decisions about their health care.  I have personally seen many patients, who whether it be due to age, disability, or lack of knowledge who simply do not understand what is happening to their health. They may not be in the right frame of mind to ask the right questions, let alone understand their treatment options (or that the treatment is an option). Most physicians and nurses simply do not have the time to spend with each patient to concisely explain these. The patient to HCP ratio remains high.  

The patient advocates are specially trained healthcare professionals available to help with these things. Some are paid “out of pocket” and there are also non-profit patient advocates who volunteer their time, such as Open Arms Patient Advocacy. Unfortunately, there is a huge need for patient advocates and yet they remain largely unknown.

How can Open Arms Advocacy Help?

We advocate for a wide array of patient issues from emergency room care, senior care, women’s health, mental health and acute care to medical fatalities. We help patients get a second opinion, find a physician, place a complaint or access medical documents. Open Arms also helps families of patients with guidance, support and resources to get the answers they require.

If you need a patient advocate, please contact us at or fill out our intake form.