We Interrupt This Thread for News About a Potential Patient Advocacy Lawsuit

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Law gavel on a stack of American money.Last week I shared with you the problems I had with my coffee pot which burned and melted its insides – and then, while shopping for a new one, it reminded me of a lesson in making sure we advocates take care of the little things.

My point was that we get hired for the big, important things that our clients need, but that our relationship with them, and our further ability to market our practices, is often dependent on the little things we take care of during the relationship. If we drop the ball on the little things, then they can have a huge negative impact for us going forward.  Mismanaging our clients’ expectations can spell the end for a practice.

This week I was going to tell you about a way you can get the feedback you need from your clients to be sure you’re meeting / exceeding their expectations…. (and don’t worry – I won’t forget – we’ll catch up to that soon)….

And then, an email exchange this week with a woman who I’ll call Lena, who hired a private, independent patient advocate with whom she is very upset. Even if the story she describes in her email is only half-true, I can see why she would be upset. And – holy cow! – how it proves the point from the “little things” post!

Lena’s first email was one simple question:

Would you know if there is anyone I could contact about a private  advocate who mishandled my case?

My reply to her was that there is no governmental body that licenses advocates and could receive a report, but that if the advocate is a member of the Alliance, I would try to facilitate a conversation on her behalf.

Lena’s next email sent chills up my spine:

I actually want to sue this person but wanted first to find out if there is any governmental agency-as you refer to it as- they answered to. I am appalled to hear there is not! I essentially put my life into this person’s hands and am finding out there is no culpability with the government over actions or words? This is a medical travesty, regardless of the fact the advocate is a nurse…. not only a menace but a disgrace to the profession of Patient Advocacy.

I did confirm that the advocate in question is a private advocate. I also know the major reason the advocate was hired (not to be disclosed here.) Lena’s next reply to me went on in very specific detail about the advocate’s transgressions – the reasons she wants to sue. I won’t discuss them here, but I will tell you that they are focused on a report issued by the advocate, with information Lena considers private, that she believes should not have been shared, and which will have a very negative ripple effect on Lena’s ability to get some of the things she needs going forward. (I will also tell you that this does not relate, as near as I can tell, to any pain medications or substance abuse.)

I do NOT know who the advocate is. No name was shared. I have no idea where either the advocate, nor Lena, lives and works, nor do I have any idea if the person is a member of the Alliance. I only know what Lena has told me. I have not heard the advocate’s side of story – it’s entirely possible that some of the “transgressions” were required by law, or were out of the advocate’s control.

But the truth is – it doesn’t matter what the advocate’s side of the story is.

The point here is that Lena is upset and wants to sue the advocate. The damage is done. The advocate has taken care of the big picture on Lena’s behalf, but in doing so, has (in Lena’s estimation) violated Lena’s privacy.  Whether or not the advocate has broken the law, this client THINKS the law has been broken. It’s the client’s PERCEPTION that the advocate has done something wrong.

I don’t know if the advocate has insurance, but I certainly hope he or she does.

So in the midst of talking about relationships being based on the “little things” – last week’s post – we get proof positive that yes, we are all vulnerable. The advocate was able to accomplish the big assignment he/she was hired to do. But in doing so, violated the lesser expectation – privacy. And now he or she will possibly be sued.

Here are some takeaways for all advocates:

1.  Realize how important the “little things” are. Even when they aren’t so little (privacy isn’t really little at all) – even if they are secondary to the main assignment; they can make or break your success.

2.  Understand your role in keeping your clients’ information private.  Whether or not we are considered “covered entities” – whether or not we are violating the law if we expose client information – clients expect (and should be able to expect) their privacy will not be violated. Never violate that trust.

3.  If you are not up-to-date on your professional liability or errors and omissions insurance, then get yourself insured immediately.  If you don’t have insurance and can’t find anyone who covers you, then join the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates – we can give you access to the right insurance.

And then – say a little prayer for Lena AND her advocate.  The future is rocky for them both.

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Share your experience or join the conversation!

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Comments

  1. Joanne Z.  March 17, 2014

    Wow, that’s a cautionary story — and you’re absolutely right, regardless of what the advocate actually did, it’s all in the client’s *perception* of what she did. Can you say where the advocate shared this private information? (“a report issued by the advocate, with information Lena considers private, that she believes should not have been shared”) Did it go to Lena’s insurance? Her doctor(s)? Family members?
    Thanks, Trisha

    reply
    • Trisha Torrey  March 17, 2014

      Joanne – while I probably could say where the report went, I won’t. I’m not into crossing any lines that don’t really need to be crossed to make the point.

      reply
  2. JACKIE  March 17, 2014

    thanks for sharing

    reply
  3. Paula Abraham  March 17, 2014

    Perhaps this advocate shared relevant information with a physician in an objective way but the client did not want anyone to know and is now angry. What if the client was doing something illegal or harmful to herself or others? Do we keep this secret? Things like this have to be handled carefully but every day we put ourselves at risk of lawsuits no matter how careful, honest, well-meaning, appropriate and professional we are. Know your client’s rights and your obligations and do the very best job that you can do. Take your time, think things through and talk to your peers or other experts about tricky situations before you act. Try to be honest and up front with your clients even when the topic is uncomfortable. Be sensitive and give them the benefit of the doubt. Then do the right thing. You may still be sued but at least you will have done the best job that you could have done.

    reply
  4. Rick Pugach  March 27, 2014

    Great subject matter that, among other things, points out (1) the value of having a competent attorney who can help with the practical business side of the content of our privacy statements; and (2) the necessity of making prospective and current clients aware of how we handle protected health information.

    Particularly in complex cases, I value greatly collegial discussion. Recently had a prospective client with a very sensitive health situation – so sensitive that he only wanted me to have access to his health information and my promise that I would not share it with anyone, even anonymously. Had to turn down the case – just cannot conduct business that way.

    reply
  5. Paul Siman  April 15, 2014

    I question why the Advocate did not show the document to the client prior to it being sent out to anyone, especially when the client was not unconscience and was participating in the events taking place. Other than believing he/she was doing their job, I would like to understand what the motivation was on the part of the Advocate for including the information (even if provided by the patient), why the Advocate did not show or discuss the report prior to distribution, and why it was necessary for the information to be included in order to achieve the results desired.
    The lack of communication is the key missing component to begin with, and an element that is always discussed in webinars and other training sessions. Personally I would have had the patient countersign the document, so that it was evident it was a shared discussion document.

    reply
  6. David Moll  May 2, 2014

    Is it safe to say that anything about the client (patient) to be shared by the advocate be cosigned by the advocate for the protection of such situations like this one?

    reply
    • Trisha Torrey  May 4, 2014

      David – I wonder if you are suggesting the PATIENT co-sign? If so, I think that sounds like a great suggestion.

      Trisha

      reply
      • David Moll  May 5, 2014

        YES! That’s exactly what I meant!

        reply

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