Advocates Are Afraid to Do This – Until They Love to Do It

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Earlier this year we hosted one of our APHA Workshop weekends*, with about 30 individuals who are somewhere in the process of growing an advocacy practice.

The APHA Workshops were originally designed to support the BUSINESS of advocacy only. The idea was that most advocates have abundant skills and abilities to advocate – they’ve advocated for themselves and loved ones, and sometimes non-family patients for years. What they didn’t know was how to successfully start and run a sustainable business / practice to allow them to do their advocacy work.  For five years, we hosted those original workshops all over the country, and student-advocates provided feedback indicating they were worthwhile.

Until… about a year ago it became clear that there was one major piece in the teaching of the budding profession of advocacy that was missing, a piece that no one had really named yet. Those of us who are leaders in the profession could describe it, but we had trouble honing in on a concise description, or definition, or better yet, a single word that would allow us to communicate about it.

This became even clearer at this year’s first workshop, mentioned above, where we added a component to address that missing piece. Some attendees, those new to advocacy, struggled to solve the real life patient / caregiver problems we posed. Observing some of the struggle helped me figure it out….

So today I’m going to name it, describe it, and then ask YOU to provide examples. 

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The Most Expensive Business to Start

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It’s entirely possible to start a new business on a shoestring. We know this, because every publication worth the paper or website it’s published on tells us so:  Forbes, USA Today, Entrepreneur, all of them.

It requires time, grit, determination, attention to detail, great word-of-mouth – oh – and money! More about this in a minute.

The truth is – the concept of starting a business on a shoestring depends on the size of your shoes and therefore, the length and strength of their laces. It certainly doesn’t hurt if they are made of solid-gold, and you can sell them for your seed money.

If you hear a sarcastic edge in this post, it’s for good reason. It’s born of frustration, the feeling that I’m shouting into an empty cave.  I’ve just heard from one more person who has closed up her advocacy practice because she can’t afford it anymore; this on the heels of a conversation last week with one of our APHA Mentors who asked me, “Why do people think they can start an advocacy practice with no investment? Why do they think they can do it for free?”

Good questions. GREAT questions. And sadly, representative of too much reality and too much failure. And, for today, it means I’m going to try to provide this reality check one more time.

Let’s look at that shoestring for a minute. 

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Are You Too Old? Take this survey.

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It happened again last week. A gentleman called me to discuss becoming a advocate. He has great experience and could be very helpful to patient-clients because he is (mostly) retired from a career in human resources where he assisted employees with their journeys through the healthcare system. He seems so very well prepared to jump in as an independent, professional, health advocate or care manager.

Yet – he said he was still hesitating because (and it took me some time to pull this one out of him) – he thinks he may be too old.

Too old? I asked him, “How old is too old?”

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Part IV: The Dirty Dozen Skills, Abilities, and Attributes of Successful Health and Patient Advocates and Care Managers

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And, finally, the fourth and last in our series of skills, abilities and attributes that all successful advocates and care managers must.

We’re wrapping up with 3 additional concepts that are important to the success all private advocacy and care management practices.  Yes – I know the total will be 16 (and we promised only a dirty dozen!) – see Part I about my inability to count 🙂 )

Which of these describe you and your abilities?  Which of them do not?  Where do you go from here?

Do your own assessment! 

 

14.  Never forget  your Allegiance. Allegiance is the foundation of a private, independent advocate’s or care manager’s work; that is – because the patient or caregiver (or someone else whose sole allegiance is to the patient) hires you, your entire focus is on what’s best for him or her.

That is the one major distinction between private, independent professionals and those who work for an organization that profits from the healthcare system. Hospital advocates, insurance advocates – their allegiance is to the companies and systems they work for. While their hearts may be in the right place, and patients may THINK they are being helped, these system-paid advocates are too often, even frustrating to them, unable to offer the best help.

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Part III: The Dirty Dozen Skills, Abilities, and Attributes of Successful Health and Patient Advocates and Care Managers

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Yes, Part III, as promised in our second installment when we continued with three additional attributes of successful advocates.

This week we are concentrating on marketing skills. Many readers know I believe most assuredly that no advocate can successfully establish an independent, private practice unless he or she effectively markets his or her abilities and availability. Period.

Which of these describe you and your abilities?  Which of them do not?  Where do you go from here?

Do your own assessment! 

 

8. Effective marketing begins with good and consistent branding.  Good branding is not just about images, logos, colors, or tag lines. Good branding is about behavior: being trustworthy, keeping promises, being consistent, showing up, following through, finding the right resources – all those important behaviors you expect from a professional.

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Part II: The Dirty Dozen Skills, Abilities, and Attributes of Successful Health and Patient Advocates and Care Managers

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Yes, Part II, as promised in our first installment last week when we began with the first four attributes of successful advocates.

Find Part I of the Dirty Dozen.

Which of these describe you and your abilities?  Which of them don’t?  Where do you go from here? Do your own assessment! 

 

Part II:  Abilities of Success Health/Patient Advocates and Care Managers

5. Health and patient advocates and care managers have an intimate understanding of the healthcare system. 

Important – I do not mean you must understand medicine. In fact, you really don’t need to understand medicine – as in diagnosis or treatment – to be successful. That’s why you don’t need to be a doctor or nurse or have another clinical background to build a successful advocacy practice. Successful advocacy is about understanding THE SYSTEM, not medicine.

You must understand how to work the system to get your client what she needs. That may mean you know the least expensive MRI locations, or it may mean you know how to get an appointment with Dr. Specialist.  It may mean you know how to work with insurance reps to get a claim approved, or it may mean you know how to find better pricing for Mrs. Smith’s prescription drugs. Maybe you need how to access a hospital’s chargemaster, or line up DRGs, CPTs, and RVUs.

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The Dirty Dozen Skills, Abilities, and Attributes of Successful Health and Patient Advocates and Care Managers – Part I

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That’s quite a title for a blog post, don’t you think? I’ve been working on this one for awhile, and it seems to have taken on a life of its own. In fact, it’s so long, I’ve now divided it into four parts.

Further, you’re about to learn is that I can’t count. I call it the “dirty dozen” because it’s a catchy title and it will compel you to link here to read the post (You’ll read more about this in Part III !). But it’s really a list of 16 (yes, 16!) skills, tasks, and attributes that the most successful advocates are, and employ.

Which of these describe you and your abilities?  Which of them don’t?  Where do you go from here? Do your own assessment! 

 

Part I:  Attributes of Success Health/Patient Advocates and Care Managers

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What Health Advocacy Is, What It Isn’t, and Why Most of It Can’t Be Taught

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One of the websites offered by APHA is a listing of all advocacy educational programs (that we know about).  There are programs offered by colleges and universities, private programs, organizational programs, mentors, and more. Some require in-person attendance, some are offered online. Their quality varies, and their results vary….

Often I hear from someone who tells me they have looked over the available programs, but can’t find what they need. What they are looking for doesn’t seem to exist. Or, here is what they want to learn, and will I tell them whether such-and-such a program will teach them that?

Typically what they want to know boils down to this:  Which program will give them the formula for success?  Which one will provide the protocols, and the processes, and the check-off list of things to do?  Which one is the magic, silver bullet that will shift them from employment today, to successful self-employment as an advocate tomorrow?

To which I answer:  ALL of them. And NONE of them.

Here is the problem:  for most of those who ask, they really don’t get what independent advocacy is. They have this idea in their heads that it’s that magical world where they will get to be the advocates they want to be – because they are. “I’ve been an advocate all my life; now I just want to get paid for it,” they tell me. “My hospital won’t let me tell patients what they really need to know, so if I do this on my own, I can change that.” Or other variations on those themes.

Here’s the point I think they are missing:  Continue Reading →

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