How Empowering Your Clients Makes You a Better, and Stronger, Health Advocate

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Those of you who know me beyond my work with AdvoConnection may know that my roots – the reason I started AdvoConnection – came from patient empowerment – specifically the recognition that when we are sick and debilitated, or scared or worried, most of us are unable to process the information we need to assess in order to make the wisest choices for ourselves.

I experienced it myself, and I’ve heard stories over and over again – where the illness and emotion just don’t allow for even the most intelligent, rational thinkers to conduct themselves the way they would in any other aspect of their lives. From the very human reaction to illness of wishing Mom was there to take care of us, to the ingrained-from-an-early-age attitude that “the doctor is smarter than I am, the doctor is always right, the doctor knows what’s best, the doctor knows everything there is to know….”  — the natural default is to yield discussion and decision-making to the doctor.  But doing so can wreak havoc on our health.

Most recently the subject has popped up in the AdvoConnection Forum – based on an article in the New York Times called Afraid to Speak Up at the Doctor’s Office.  The point being that as patients, with difficult symptoms, a new diagnosis, or ensuing problems, are afraid of asking questions that make us appear as “difficult” patients.  As a result, we don’t get the information we need, we aren’t empowered to make the right decisions for ourselves, and we are therefore simply defaulting to what’s being expected of us – not making smart, rational choices.

It’s what I call the “If I Ask Too Many Questions, the Waiter Will Spit In My Soup” fear. Except in this case, it can be life and death.

The discussion in the AC Forum is very much about this phenomenon as the basis for needing an advocate by one’s side in the doctor’s office.  And to that I say a loud “Amen!” Discussing with a potential client this fear of discussion with the doctor can certainly help him or her decide that you are exactly the right person to help them out – as if you have read their minds and truly understand them.

But I also see a broader picture – one that can not only help your clients improve their experiences, but can move your health advocacy practice forward, too. 

The truth is, much of what our clients need is confidence:  confidence for holding up their side of a conversation with (even intimidating) providers, confidence to leave a provider who just isn’t doing right by them, confidence to make the decisions they know need to be made – and more.

You can be the person who helps them build that confidence, and as such, you will build their trust and appreciation for the work you do with them.  For many clients (and potential clients) you will not only strengthen their abilities to manage their own medical situation, but you will expand the work they rely on you to do.  And when they tell others about how you helped them, it will be in glowing terms (great marketing!)

I’ve written up a list of possible ways this can be done – a springboard for your own ideas as well.  Improving client confidence will make you a better advocate, and will help you grow your practice, too.

AdvoConnection members can find this list by logging in to their membership dashboard, finding the Client Services Center, then Client Relations. Look for NEW!

Not a member?  Join us!

 

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Do I Have to Be a Nurse to Be a Patient Advocate?

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The answer is simple.  No.

So why do I ask this question?  Earlier this month, while attending the NAHAC Conference, the question was asked by a number of people.  As if the qualification to be an effective patient advocate relied on a nursing education.

Now please don’t get me wrong.  I am a huge supporter of nurses and nursing, in its many important forms.  I’ve written many times at About.com about nurses, nurse practitioners, and why I believe training as a nurse is far more patient-centered than other forms of medical training.  Most of my commentary comes from my appreciation for the “whole patient” approach most nurses provide.  I’m a fan – a BIG fan – of nurses and the nursing model for patient care.

Here are five reasons why a patient advocate does not need to come from a nursing background:

1.  Patient advocates actually perform a number of services, many of which have nothing to do with nursing.  Some are medical bill reviewers, some do research and writing about medical problems…. Nursing isn’t the right background or training for these kinds of services.

2.  Patient advocates are facilitators, but they are not decision-makers.  Patient advocates do not perform medical functions.  They provide options and background information to their patients, but never make decisions on their patients’ behalf.  Since they aren’t making medical decisions, they don’t even need a medical background.  (Not to say a medical background wouldn’t be helpful.  It might be.  It just isn’t necessary.)

3.  No matter what the background of the patient advocate, he or she knows when it is time to find helpful resources to help his or her client.  If the advocate is a nurse, then she knows when to call in a doctor or an insurance expert.  If the advocate is not a nurse, then she knows when to call in a nurse if one is needed.  That means a patient advocate can have almost any type of background and experience…. He will simply set up his system of resource people accordingly.

4.  Patients who need an advocate’s help are all over the map when it comes to what they can afford.  Someone who is not a nurse, or does not have medical training, will charge less (or should charge less) in many instances than an advocate who does have nursing training, making him more affordable than someone who does have a nursing or medical education.

5.  Finally – to make my points – some of the best known and most effective patient advocates, real pioneers in our emerging business of patient advocacy, have no nursing experience or education in their background.  Ken Schueler, perhaps the premier patient advocate in the United States and abroad, does not have an MD or RN after his name. (He did study at Sarah Lawrence in its patient advocacy course.). Elisabeth Schuler Russell learned her skills while advocating for her baby daughter.

Smart advocates will find their training where they can, when they need it, for a particular reason.  For example, an advocate who decides to focus on cancer patients might take courses in understanding oncology.  Or an advocate who needs help understanding extensive medical terminology might take a course to better understand it.

All nurses are patient advocates.  But not all patient advocates need to be nurses to begin with.

If you are considering a career as a patient advocate, then start where you are planted.  But start.

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Updates on this post:

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