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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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Your Success as a Patient Advocate Isn’t About You

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

There’s a guy who has developed the formula for determining winning lotto numbers correctly 92.6% of the time.  He’s so good at determining those winning numbers that all 50 states, plus the Irish Sweepstakes and the Nigerian Lottery, have banned him from playing their games.  He’s been escorted away from more scratch-off ticket vending machines than anyone can count.  And he lives around the corner from you.

Now – hold that thought.

…………………………………………..

Dorothy Anderson spent 28 years as a pediatric nurse, first in a busy peds practice where she had a marvelous reputation as a knowledgeable and caring professional. Then she spent many years in the neonatal unit of a busy hospital where she was part of a team that worked with some of the most at-risk babies to help them develop strong enough bodies to go home with their parents.  In short, Dorothy was the consummate professional.

Now, for a number of reasons, Dorothy has decided to become a patient advocate, focusing specifically on helping families with at-risk newborns who need continued care after they leave the hospital. Her credentials are impeccable.  Her business cards and website are professional.  But so far, she hasn’t had a single client.  The phone hasn’t even rung.

Kurt Schaefer spent a number of years as a hospital accountant.  He knows his way around a hospital bill, including understanding where hospitals can pad bills, and where the most mistakes are made.  But then he got laid off, and as a result, decided he would become a medical and hospital billing advocate.  So he made up his new business cards, got the local press to write about him and his advocacy work, and waited for the phone to ring.  And it did!  But the people who called were looking for someone to help them sort out their treatment options, or get a second opinion, or  help with their newborn who was just being discharged from the NICU.  And Kurt couldn”t help them with any of that.

Both Dorothy and Kurt, despite their excellent skills and experience, will go out of business before they even get started.  Why?  Not because they don’t have the skills and experience they need, but because the people who need them don’t know they are available to help.

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Forum Fireworks Tackle the Question: Who Is Qualified to Be a Patient Advocate?

September 19, 2011 8 comments

Fireworks erupted in the AdvoConnection Forum recently.  I call them fireworks because those involved are so passionate about their work – no matter what their points of view. Fireworks are awe-inspiring and truly beautiful, even if they don’t accomplish much, which is exactly what transpired.

The questions and statements that caused that passion are worth sharing here, because they can help all of us clarify our roles in this growing profession of patient advocacy and navigation.

The inital question was ” I’d love to hear from advocates –like me– who do not have medical credentials –about how you position yourself in the market. Why should someone choose us when they can get an RN advocate?”

What the discussion evolved to was: Who is qualified to offer patient advocacy services?  Who is “good enough” or experienced enough or worthy of the title?  What roles do patient advocates and navigators play in their work with their clients?

And, like in any argume… I mean… fireworks display, there were some bright shining stars, some explosions, some oooo’s and aaahhh’s – and some duds.

I won’t recreate the discussion because, frankly, it stands by itself in points, counterpoints and personalities.

But I will provide some commentary to share with everyone, whether or not you are a part of AdvoConnection’s Forum, because these are the truths I hold for this marvelous profession which exists to serve the patients and caregivers who desperately need us:

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Got Business? AdvoConnection One Day Business Institute – Reserve Your Spot Now

September 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Most members of AdvoConnection are aware of the upcoming Business Institute, but for those of you who aren’t members – you are invited, too!

The cost to attend goes up this week, so this is the time to make your commitment.

Topics will include legal, insurance, marketing, tools, money and certification.  Here are some of the questions we will answer:

• Do you have the right insurance at the best price?
• What forms do you need and what makes your contracts legally binding?
• What’s the latest on certification issues?
• How can you deal with business problems your client poses, like not paying his bill, or refusing to sign important paperwork?
• Does your website put your best foot forward?
• What’s the best approach to social media marketing?
• How can you best price your services?
• How should you approach clients about payment?
• What does the IRS expect from you?
• What are some inexpensive ways to reach the right potential clients?
• What other types of services might you be able to offer?
• Who else is out there to help you improve and grow your business?

We’ll have plenty of opportunities for networking, too – including speed dating! (sort of…..)

And – a very special surprise guest will provide our keynote speech.  Join us – because there won’t be a dry eye in the place.

We do hope you can join us!  Thursday, November 3 in Berkeley, CA.

Learn more – and register here:  www.AdvoConnectionConference.com 

(I look forward to meeting you!)