All We Really Need to Know About Being Good Advocates We Learned in Kindergarten

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As children across the US and Canada start kindergarten this time of the year, I’m reminded of Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, a classic, published more than 30 years ago.

I’ve actually written about advocates and the kindergarten principles before, years ago, as applied to some real negativity we were experiencing as a profession then. But today’s piece is updated, much more positive, and contains some further advice not shared then.

So much of this kindergarten wisdom is appropriate to our successful running of an independent advocacy or care management practice – no matter whether it’s back-to-school time or not.

So, with a nod to author Fulghum, let’s review.

1. Be Respectful and Expect to Be Respected in Return

This is 360o advice: be respectful of others, and expect them to return the same. Now, you might respond “Yeah… Duh! Of course!” but I’m constantly amazed at the stories I hear about disrespect in relation to advocacy.  I’ve heard about:

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Self-Centered and Unbusinesslike

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Suppose I go to my favorite pizza shop and this conversation takes place:

Me: I would like a pepperoni pizza with black olives, onions, and extra cheese.

Johnny the Pizza Guy:  Sure! I’d be happy to help you with this pizza. But first let me tell you all about my pizza experiences – the reason I like to make pizzas. When I was little, we went to my grandmother’s house for dinner every Wednesday. My grandmother always made meatloaf. She made meatloaf with ground beef and always made gravy and mashed potatoes to go with it. It tasted good. It was filling. Then one Wednesday after eating dinner at Grandma’s (and realizing that it didn’t quite taste the same) my brother got really sick and started to throw up. Then the rest of us started to get sick, too. My mother was worried, so she took us to the ER, and sure enough – Grandma’s meatloaf, which had been tried and true and never changed… Well. She had made it with pork this time, the pork hadn’t cooked through, and we all got food poisoning. So now I make pizza.

Me: Seriously? I come in here to order a pizza and I have to listen to that story? Forget it. I don’t want your pizza anymore.

Now, of course, not only will I not get my pizza, but I have to figure out what to do next, and make all new arrangements for dinner!

I know. You think I’ve really lost it now, but bear with me to see how this applies to you, as an independent advocate.

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Going on Offense: Who Deserves an Advocate’s Help?

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“Only rich people can afford an advocate.”

Or: “Doesn’t providing private patient advocacy services only to those who can afford them, just create one more division between the “haves” and the “have nots?”

Or: “Not everyone can afford an independent patient advocate. It’s unfair some people can’t be helped.”

Anyone who has worked in advocacy or care management has heard one or more of these statements, or at least one from the same playbook. It’s an objection meant to put us on the defensive, as if, since private advocacy can’t be provided to everyone, then we shouldn’t provide it to anyone.

Don’t let anyone put YOU on the defensive this way!  It’s a foolish argument. Here’s why:

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The Search Meter, Customer Service, and Fulfilling Your Need to Know

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In your pre-advocacy lifetime, you may never have thought you would be dealing with “customer service.” And yet, now that you’ve started working with clients, that’s what you’re required to do every time you interface with a customer (client) in any way: in-person, through phone calls, or email, or even postal mail. Your website represents customer service. Even the signature on your email is a form of customer service.

Most new business owners who have never before lived in a customer service world believe that all they need to do is listen and respond. But that’s really only a start.

Today we’re going to look at finding ways to provide customer service that provide an experience with you and your practice that may be expected, or may instead be totally UNexpected, or provide a delightful surprise.

Of course, in these posts I’m all about providing examples…  Do as I DO and not just as I say!  Here’s an example of how we, through the myAPHA membership website, provide that customer service in a way you might not have expected.

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Coloring Outside the Lines

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When people ask you what you do for a living, what do you – as an independent health / patient advocate, or care manager — reply to them?

It would be simple to say “I am an advocate” which, then, may require further explanation. That further explanation would likely include examples of the kinds of work you do (I attend doctor appointments with seniors. Or, I manage medical bills and negotiate them when they are too high. Or I help people figure out what their own choices are for treatments… or…. )

That further explanation is always valuable, especially if the person asks you additional questions – meaning you have engaged them. And they often do!  They also tend to launch into stories on their own, beginning with “Where were you when….?” and then relate some horrible situation they or their loved one found themselves in. At that point you know they understand.

But this week, during a conversation with a gentleman who wants to jump into “our” world, I found myself telling him…

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