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Archive for October, 2011

And Above All – Establish Trust

October 24, 2011 Leave a comment

For many years I’ve heard from patients across the country with questions about their healthcare. Not medical questions; rather questions about something in the healthcare system that isn’t working the way they want, or expect it, to work.  They can’t get their doctors to answer their questions, or the insurance company has turned them down for a test or treatment, or they got a bill they didn’t expect – or – ______ (fill in the blank with hundreds more questions!)

There is one theme that runs through every question;  that is – a lack of trust. In every case, the reason they are turning to me is because they don’t trust either an answer they’ve been given, or they don’t trust the person or entity who gave them that answer, or both.

A trust gap has developed, a chasm really, that’s growing wider, between patients and the traditional system of obtaining healthcare. The more they need, whether it’s more medical care or more answers about that care, the less they are getting. That widening chasm represents rationing – of care and communication.  The more care and communication are rationed, the more frustrated patients become and their trust erodes even further.

When vulnerable people can’t trust, then they become desperate. That’s often the point when they go in search of someone to help, and more and more frequently, that person they are hoping will help them is one of us – a patient advocate.

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What’s Next?

October 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Two weeks ago, I worked with the staff at a large, local primary care practice teaching them some basic customer service-type skills to help them better manage their patients and, truthfully, improve their own job satisfaction, too.  Nurses, receptionists, the referral group, billing and cashiers – clinical and non-clinical staff attended. From making lists of the things their patients complain about most (you guessed it – prolonged time in the waiting room), to determining what the benefits to managing things differently might be (fewer headaches for everyone), we arrived at some simple and no-cost approaches they could use.

Their assignment, then, was to begin implementing some of those ideas, to assess what did, or did not work, and to begin thinking themselves of ways they could improve that constant patient interface that can become so problematic for everyone.

Then, after ten days of practice, we came back together to debrief.

Now, I’ll admit… I was a little nervous.  I had no idea what to expect. Had it worked?  Did they actually implement some of our ideas?  And if they did, what was their assessment of success?

Turns out….

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The Distinction that Can Make All the Difference

October 9, 2011 1 comment

Many of you, despite the fact that you are excellent advocates with outstanding patient advocacy skills, will not succeed as private advocates, because you don’t understand one important distinction.

Doesn’t really seem right, does it?

So what’s that distinction?  Well, it ties into the ongoing discussion about who does, or does not, have the capability to provide the skills patients need, and who will, or won’t, be able to do the work – that discussion about patients’ needs and fulfilling those needs.

Let’s look at it this way first:

Colleen has always loved houses, and has been the admin in a real estate company for almost 30 years. She has handled details upon details for others – from seller contracts to purchaser contracts, from arranging for home showings, to making phone calls to rustle up inspectors, to retrieving signs from a “sold” property’s front yard.  She knows her stuff, she’s done it all, she’s seen it all, and now she’s decided she wants to do real estate work on her own.  So Colleen quits her job, and goes into business for herself.

Colleen approaches her business very professionally, doing all the stuff she thinks she’s supposed to do.  She makes up business cards and some flyers.  She builds a website.  She lets everyone in her neighborhood and her church know that she’s got decades of real estate experience, and now she’s ready to help them list or buy a house. Yes, her phone rings on occasion, but… The business just doesn’t come in to support her well enough.  Eventually she takes a part time job so she can pay some of her bills.  But, of course, if she’s at work at her part time job, and people call her for help right away, she misses the opportunity.

Six months later, Colleen is forced to give up her dream of being in business for herself, doing what she loves and is passionate about.  She can’t support herself and the phone just doesn’t ring often enough.  But she just doesn’t understand it – Colleen can’t figure out why she can’t build a business.

What Colleen missed, the reason she can’t succeed, is the same reason many of you who read this will go out of business, too.  Until you recognize it and act on it, you are doomed to fail (unless, of course, you win the lottery and can be a patient advocate for free, with no worry about income….)

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Tooting Your Own Horn, and Playing a Tune People Want (and Need) to Hear

October 2, 2011 Leave a comment

My last two posts have focused on why it’s important for those who want to succeed as private patient advocates realize that their success won’t rely on just their advocacy skills.  The bottom line is that success is NOT about an advocate’s skills.  Success is dependent on the balance of perception, needs and knowledge on the part of potential clients and the capabilities of advocates to fulfill them.  And that means that success is dependent on the advocate’s understanding of how to run and promote a business.

In other words:  Succeeding in the business of private patient advocacy requires two things:  good advocacy and good business.  Neither can stand by itself.  Good advocacy without business won’t succeed.  Good business without good advocacy won’t succeed.

Last week, we took a look at two representative advocates to illustrate the concept;  Dorothy Anderson is a former NICU nurse who hopes to help families with at-risk newborns make their transition home as safe and healthy as possible.  Kurt Schaefer is a former hospital billing specialist who hopes to help people reduce their hospital and other medical bills.  Both have impeccable skill sets and capabilities.  But neither is succeeding – because they are not business-minded.

For balance sake, let’s try a third example.  Katherine Lee is an entrepreneur who has decided patient advocacy is an up-and-coming field. Her business sense tells her that she can hire people with minimal skill sets, teach them how to be advocates, begin working on insurance plans to try to corral reimbursements, and pretty soon she’ll be chunking off her own pieces of the health insurance money pie.

It will probably upset you to learn that Katherine has a much better chance of initial success than either Dorothy or Kurt does.

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