The One Thing You Must Do to Grow Your Advocacy Practice (and Take a Vacation, too)

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workingbythepoolThe answer to this notion of “the one thing you must do” boils down to trust, although maybe not in the way you’ll expect…

I say this to you, with the keen awareness of the fact that trusting isn’t something I do well.  Having spent the first half of my life as Pollyanna reincarnated, then having been burned by too many people I DID trust along the way, including an ex-husband, an ex-business partner, and the notorious reason for all this empowerment and advocacy work of mine – the doctors who I trusted to help me whether my mysterious odyssey in 2004 – I hope you’ll understand that trusting isn’t exactly my long suit. Pollyanna, as represented by Trisha Torrey, long ago left the building.

So, whereas in the first half of my life, when anyone I met was trusted by default, that’s far from true in these past few decades. It is a huge struggle for me to trust anyone enough to relinquish any sort of control I have over important, personal situations. I can count the people I do trust with those situations on one hand.

That means this post, about the one thing you need to do to grow your practice (and take a vacation) is a bit like the pot (me) calling many of you kettles, black. Yes, I know this advice will be a tough pill for some to swallow, and I truly do understand that many of us need (what amounts to) a 12-step program to make it happen.

So what is that one thing?

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Veterans, Soldiers, the VA – What They Represent to Private Patient Advocates

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A Memorial Day Tribute

My husband is retired from the Air Force* after serving for 20 years during the Vietnam era. My father served in the Army Air Corps during World War II. These two veterans, the men I have loved the most, and who represent millions of other American soldiers, men and women, deserve all the respect Americans can possibly muster not only Memorial Day, but every other day of the year as well.

I raise this point because like you, I’ve been hearing and reading about the problems veterans have had getting the care they need from the VA (Veteran’s Administration) Health System. The allegation is that dozens of veterans died, and thousands more have been further debilitated, as they sat on waiting lists to see doctors or receive treatments they needed. Even if the stories are only partially true, they are heartbreaking for the loss of each of them and their families left behind, and they leave us angry that these people, who put their lives on the line for our freedom, would be treated so poorly.

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

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When Your Competition – Isn’t

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(Updated February 2017)

Recently we relaunched one of our APHA networking benefits, Special Interest Groups (SIGs). They provide members with the opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals to discuss any topic relevant to their work. For example, all members who live in Idaho might want to connect with each other. Or those who offer mental health advocacy services can share ideas. Others with interest in working strictly with seniors, or all our physician members, or even a group of Stanford grads (yes we have a handful!) SIGs help us connect with those who share our interests and experiences.

One group, the Medical Billing and Claims SIG, does very well, sharing information online in its forum, and through monthly phone calls.

But other SIGs just never get very far.

Shortly after the relaunch, two members suggested that one reason this networking benefit struggles is because members are afraid to share information with their competition.

Say, what?

Uh-oh.  We need a serious business lesson about the real nature of “competition.”  To fret about competition is actually quite a beginner mistake.  So let’s see what we can learn:

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Oh, It Was Nothing, Really

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blond business woman hiding her face on white backgroundAs advocates working for clients with grave medical problems, or clients who battle their insurance companies to get what they need for their care, or could lose their entire financial foundations due to overwhelming medical bills, our work results in lifesaving and quality-of-life saving outcomes every day.  That’s what we do.

And then, when someone thanks us, way too many of us deflect the compliment. “Oh, it was nothing, really.”


It’s as if we are embarrassed to have been thanked, even though we are – secretly – pleased.

This disconnect in our response to being thanked and recognized came to mind twice over the past few days. It was a topic during our marketing workshop in Seattle, and then last evening, it showed up on the news in the form of a story about teaching girls about self-esteem by teaching them to brag.

Yes – seriously! – teaching them to brag!  Imagine that!  Especially imagine that in the same world where most of us were taught strictly and purposefully NEVER to brag. “It’s not polite,” we were told. People will think less of you if you do!

Little did your parents know when when they taught you not to brag (and yes, we need to recognize that this was beaten into the psyche of girls in a much larger way than boys) – that they were setting us up to fail in business.

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10 Lessons Patient Advocates and Navigators Can Learn from the Superbowl

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(first published in February 2012)

I’ll confess that I’m not a big football fan.  And I’m certainly not a big fan of sports metaphors (which actually drive me crazy in business because I think they are exclusionary – not everyone understands them.)

But I am a fan of learning good business lessons from the experiences we have and the activities that are going on around us.  And the lessons we can pull from the Superbowl are, well… super.  So please forgive the sports metaphors for the moment, and see what you can learn:

1.  The Superbowl is about excellence.
Only the top two teams in any given year are invited to play in the Superbowl.  Beyond the fact that they have won so many games, they are also talked about in the most glowing terms.    As advocates and navigators, we can strive for that same high regard by performing our services with excellence so that those we work about talk about us in those kinds of glowing terms, too.

2.  The Superbowl is about branding, outreach, and promotion.
Even if you aren’t a fan of one of the Superbowl teams, you know who they are,  what cities they are from, and other assorted details, simply because you can’t miss them. No matter what time of the year it is, if someone talks about pro football, they mention the Superbowl, too.  The lesson from this is very clear.  Let your potential clients think of you anytime someone mentions medical challenges or illness.

3.  The Superbowl is about outcomes and bragging rights.
Every pro football team aspires to not only make it to the Superbowl, but to win it, too.  There are a number of ways we strive to “win” as advocates and navigators.  One is that we can “win” a client when they decide to work with us.  But of even more value is the “win” of helping that client find improved medical outcomes (or money outcomes) because we did our work well. Wins mean bragging rights – and that tells us to remember to ask for testimonials and endorsements, too.

4. The Superbowl is about teamwork.
Individuals don’t play in the Superbowl – teams do.  Those teams are comprised of individuals who work well together, but none could ever be there if “together” wasn’t a part of the mix.  As advocates and navigators, even if we are sole practitioners, there are still many reasons to view our work in teams:  with our clients, their providers, employees, contractors, advisors/resources, and others. There is strength in that team approach.

5. The Superbowl is about inclusion.
While the game itself is comprised of just those two teams, the event tries to include everyone.  Rare is the Superbowl conversation that doesn’t also mention the commercials.  Those entertaining commercials bring in a whole new set of viewers and fans – people who otherwise would never consider tuning in. As advocates, we strive to get our messages in front of other audiences, too.  How can we do that?  By providing something they are interested in – even if it’s not our core business.  A hospital-bedside advocate could give a talk about staying safe in the hospital. A medical billing advocate might blog about the effects of healthcare reform….  The Lesson:  Be inclusive of new audiences.

6. The Superbowl is about coaching.
None of us will succeed without listening, learning from and engaging with those who can help us.  Anyone who tries to do this work without staying up on the practice will not succeed in the long run. This new career of patient advocacy and navigation changes dramatically, sometimes week-to-week, at a minimum month-to-month…. always. Unless you subscribe to an organization that will keep track of changes, or take courses or classes to grow your capabilities, you’ll find yourself left behind from this fast-moving service career.

7. The Superbowl is about coopetition.
Most of us think that the Superbowl is a competitive game that will have a clear winner.  And it is.  But the reason it is so popular, so infused in the American psyche, is because it is coopetive.  Coordinating this event year after year is THE fulltime job of perhaps thousands of people, ranging from those who are involved in the game itself, to those who sell or produce the commercials, to those who must prepare and protect the venue, to those who write about it, or keep the history of it.  Those folks compete with others, of course.  But it’s the fact that they all cooperate that makes it all work.

8. The Superbowl drives us to alternatives.
Honestly, I get sick of the hype.  And while I usually like to watch NBC, this year, I have changed the channel because, frankly, I get sick of so much of life being about the Superbowl.  The lesson in there for us advocates is:  don’t be overbearing.  When it comes to your own promotion or interest, learn where the boundaries are so your message will get across, but you won’t be dismissed by those who are tired of hearing about your work.

9. The Superbowl is about analysis.
In any business – whether it’s the Superbowl or patient advocacy – assessing what worked, what didn’t, strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures, is what shepherds us into the future.  Strengths and successes give us the opportunity to showcase and promote our work, plus the sense of satisfaction.  We can assess weaknesses and failures to determine which parts of our work need to be changed or at least adjusted, perhaps dropped, or even reinforced.  Every client interface, every marketing outreach, and other aspects of our business, too, provides an opportunity for analysis.

Bottom line – whether or not you care one wit about watching the Superbowl – or sports metaphors – there are lessons we can take away and apply to our work as health and patient advocates and navigators.

I came up with 9 lessons – can you suggest #10?  Please add your lesson in the comments section.  (Giants? or Patriots?)

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