The YOMs Are Back! (And That’s Not a Good Thing)

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You may be aware that The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates maintains a list of mentors – people who have worked in private advocacy for long enough, and who have become successful enough, to be willing to, and able, to mentor advocate wannabes – those of you who want to become the best advocate you can be, but understand there are limitations to your knowledge that will get in the way of your success. Our listed mentors are professionals who are paid for their expertise, education, and advice by those who want to learn from them.

Hold that thought.

We all know there are people “out there” who think they are – or at least behave as if they are – entitled.  Entitled to anything at all – entitled to park in a handicap parking space (when they aren’t handicapped), entitled to move to the front of the line, entitled to help themselves to something they should be paying for, even, simply, entitled to interrupt or even bully others.

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Tough Questions, Informative Discussions, and Opportunities to Count Our Blessings

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From 2006 to 2010, I hosted a weekly radio show, sponsored by Upstate Medical University (Syracuse, NY). It gave me the opportunity to interview truly knowledgeable experts in every aspect of medicine and healthcare you can imagine.

It was an incredible learning experience. I would walk away from our recordings each week realizing that for every iota of information I knew or had just learned, there were millions of iotas I didn’t know, would never know, and might never even know to ask about. Gratifying, brain-stimulating, and sometimes overwhelming.

photo - dr eastwood

Dr. Gregory Eastwood

Included in the conversations was a monthly feature that focused on ethical questions in medicine and healthcare. I co-hosted the sessions with Dr. Gregory Eastwood, the president of the university, and a member of the Bioethics and Humanities Department. We made quite a team: the professional who, for decades, had dealt with these issues and the people who faced them, paired with me, the patient, who had never had to deal with most of them, but who tried to put herself in the shoes of those very frightened, overwhelmed and sometimes angry patients and family members who were forced to face difficult and often heart-wrenching decisions.

During those years we produced dozens of rich discussions, dealing with facts, reality, and perception, as affected by morality, religion / spirituality, culture, the law, and the human heart. I just loved those conversations – they made me think in directions my brain had never been forced to go before. (One of the results was the reminder to count my blessings. Few of us do that often enough.)

In 2010, I had to walk away from my hosting duties. My travel schedule had made it all but impossible to keep up the weekly recording schedule; totally unfair to the producers, and exhausting for me. I look back on the experience with gratitude for both the opportunity of meeting so many intelligent people with so much expertise, and the in-depth education I received on so many topics related to medicine, the healthcare system, and their impact on people.

Fast forward to today.

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Today I Expect They Will Begin to Fly. Will You?

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If you follow this blog, you know my husband and I have moved to Florida. It’s been a long two weeks, but we are now settled in our temporary housing, a nice home in the same community where we will be building a new home. (Yes, another move!) 

Here in my new space, my desk sets right next to a window, looking out over some garden palms. Pretty, and I thought maybe peaceful, too. I’d be able to get some work done – a quiet place to work on APHA business and book writing…

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A Train of Thought to Put You on the Fast Track to Success

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Last week my husband and I made our move. After decades of living in Upstate NY, we moved to Florida (hey! It’s hot down here!) – and are now transitioning to new lives in a new place, with new friends, new challenges, new fun and more.

The 1200+ mile trip itself was made a little easier by taking the Amtrak Auto Train. If you aren’t familiar with the Auto Train, it’s a service that transports both you and your car, leaving from the Washington DC area and traveling non-stop to Sanford, Florida, just north of Orlando. Your car is loaded onto a special train car built for that purpose, while you ride in a nicely equipped passenger train car.

It’s a long trip – 800+ miles – and by train it is scheduled for 17 hours, leaving late in the afternoon and arriving early the next morning. Because the trip takes so long, they include additional services as part of the price including two meals (dinner, and breakfast the next morning), movies, a lounge car, internet access and other amenities to help you while-away those many hours. You even sleep right on the train, either in a sleeping car or right at your seat.

So why do I wax poetic about the Auto Train on a blog that is focused on private, independent patient advocates? 

Because, oddly enough, I think we private, independent advocates can take some lessons from the Auto Train service – both positives and negatives.

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When Clients Lie

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Years ago, I hosted a radio show where I had the opportunity to interview medical providers from many specialties about their work with patients. One of the recurring themes was that “Patients lie.”

Now – you might wonder why that would become a theme, but the answer is quite simple. It was important to discuss it during the show because smart patients need to know that their providers assume they are lying as a part of the diagnoses or treatment they provide.  (Good advice for smart advocates, too.)

Here are some examples:

  • An anesthesiologist told me that patients are always asked how much alcohol they drink. Whatever answer the patient gives, is then (at least) doubled when it comes time for the anesthesiologist to determine how much anesthesia to administer during surgery. (An honest patient may not receive enough anesthesia based on that “doubling.”)
  • Endocrinologists ask their diabetes patients whether they are watching their carb intake. The patient may say “yes,” but when the provider sees an A1C value that is too high, they just assume the patient has lied instead of seeking another cause for that too-high A1C. (That’s problematic if there truly is another cause.)
  • Many primary doctors and nurse practitioners told me that when they ask a patient if she smokes, and she says no, they may not believe her if she has a history of smoking. (An honest, smart patient needs to be aware that untrue judgment is being made.)

So what does all that have to do with patient advocates?

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The Binder, the Meltdown, and Some Advocacy Karma, Too

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I beg your indulgence today as I relate a personal story. I don’t usually do this – rarely do I share this much personal information! But I promise you, if you stick with it – it will make sense by the end.

As mentioned in last week’s post, my husband and I are getting ready to move. In less than three weeks, we’ll have begun settling in more than 1200 miles away.  Since we will have no basement (!) and since it’s just really about d*mn time (!) – we are cleaning out, purging really – getting rid of the excess stuff in our lives that we just don’t need or want to have to deal with (or don’t want our kids to have to deal with) in the future.

Yesterday was “clean out my office” day. It was a daunting task, a room chock full of everything from old computers to old paperwork, personal papers, workshop materials, plus books, books and more books, and more tchotchkes and little collectible things than you can imagine. Now about 2/3 of it is either set aside for yard-sale-round-2 – or is in the trash or recycling. Gone. Much of the rest is packed up and ready to move.

Today I’m actually feeling quite pious about the whole thing. I was organized, got started early, and played my favorite music – loudly –  all day. I made it as much fun as I could, considering the huge job that it was. By the time I was done, there was a certain “high” to having completed such a huge task.

Cleaning out was physically demanding. However, the real challenge was the emotional demand – something I had not anticipated. Cleaning out meant I dealt with memories all day long, some good, some not, and some alarming, as you’ll see in a moment.

I found my daughters’ birth certificates. I found the draft of my first book (one I never published). I found my divorce papers from 1988. I found all my newspaper column clippings – 6 years worth! I found my mother’s hole-in-one golf trophy from 1977. I found proposals I had written when I owned my marketing company, and thank you notes from past clients. I found the little give-aways from the radio show I hosted several years ago…. the list goes on and on.

Finding memorabilia means you revisit their history; it’s not like you can just sort those items them without processing them.

And thus – the melt-down.

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These 8 Yard Sale Lessons May Improve Your Advocacy Practice

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We’ve made the decision. My husband and I have decided to leave cold Northeastern winters behind, and in just a few weeks we’ll be moving south.  We’ve sold our home in Upstate NY. We’ve purchased a home in Florida. We’ve put together the details for the actual move itself…

The only continuing challenge is one that will sound familiar to many of you. We have too much stuff.

When we moved into our current home in 2007, we were newly married. We jammed two entire households worth of stuff into this home – most of it simply moved to the basement. Then parents passed away and we collected even more stuff. Over the years our kids have removed their stuff, we’ve sold a few things, we’ve given a lot away… From holiday decorations, tools, and hobby supplies to old tax records, books, grandkids’ toys, games, and luggage. Family, sentimental, nostalgic, even historical. It’s the stuff accumulated throughout two lifetimes and those of our loved ones and… well, overwhelming, really.

But in Florida there are no basements!  Therein lies our problem….

The solution?  A yard sale, of course. So Saturday’s sale was round one.

Throughout the day I haggled, chatted, rearranged and sold stuff. But I also spent time just observing shoppers, and by the end of the day, I had put together a list of relevant customer service lessons for private, professional patient advocates.

Granted, there are some major differences between yard sale shoppers and patients who need advocates. But I hope you’ll be able to use this list to improve how you conduct business with the general public – most of whom will need to hire a private advocate sometime in the future.

Here are the customer service lessons that may be helpful to you:

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Patient Advocates and The Kindergarten Principles

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You may remember Robert Fulghum’s book, published in the 1980s, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten…  The book is a group of essays focused on the wisdom that helps us lead a good life – basic tenets including sharing, being kind to one another, cleaning up after ourselves and living a balanced life.

The book and its basics have come to mind so many times in recent months during exchanges with some of the patient advocates who have reached out to me. Their outreach, a mix of questions, complaints, reports and misinformation, leaves me scratching my head and wondering what I can do to remedy such dissension.

I raise this topic today because some of these behaviors need to be nipped in the bud. Further, if you ever experience these behaviors, you can point the perpetrator to this post without saying another word. 

If I sound like I’m scolding, well, perhaps I am.  But I’m not one to scold unless a behavior is having a negative influence on our profession – and you know what?  These behaviors really are.  And we need to stop them.

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