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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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 Birdcage: How to Ruin a First Impression

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Many readers know that my husband and I moved last year to Florida from Upstate NY, where – yes, thank you! – we have truly enjoyed this winter. No shoveling, mostly mild temperatures, lots of sun, and golf! – a big change from the past many winters.

So here in our new home in Florida we’ve decided to bring some of the outdoors in. Or maybe we’re going to take some of our indoors out. Whichever way you look at it, we’re getting ready to build a “birdcage,” a screened room which will be attached to the back of our house.

We began by soliciting estimates from four different birdcage builders, inviting them over to discuss our project.

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Channeling Mary Kay

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I heard from a gentleman this week who represents many of you. Specifically, he was trying to decide whether to pursue becoming an independent patient advocate – or not – because he wasn’t sure if he knew enough to be able to handle every client situation that comes his way.

He wanted a pep talk. He wanted me to convince him he knows enough.

Yes, it was time to invoke one of my favorite quotations, provided to us by Mary Kay Ash (presumably when she wasn’t out washing her pink Cadillac)

“If you think you can, you can. If you think you can’t, you’re right.”

The truth is – it’s not really that simple. In fairness, self-doubt about the ability to do anything new plagues all of us. Whether it was your first job babysitting or bagging groceries, or you’re changing careers at mid-life, or even starting up an encore career at age 60+…  you’re putting yourself out there, you’re testing your own mettle, and you’re taking a risk. The very definition of risk taking means it could go badly. 

But something about his question quite bothered me. It noodled around in my head for a little while, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized he had asked the wrong question.

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Don’t Let HIPPA* Drag Us Down

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Today I’m sharing a beef about HIPAA. Respect for our profession is at stake.

Remember, one of our goals is to become one of THE most respected of professions who work in the healthcare system. Today’s post is an ode to that goal.

HIPAA is the acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.  (It often surprises people to learn that the P in HIPAA has nothing to do with privacy, because that’s the specific reason we must deal with it – for privacy’s sake.)

Advocates are no strangers to HIPAA, even though we are still unsure about whether advocates are considered to be covered entities. It’s something we deal with for every new client. At the beginning of each new client relationship, we ensure that all HIPAA forms have been signed, ready to be handed over to every provider who raises an eyebrow when we appear on the scene to assist our clients.

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