Imagine a Friend’s Night Out and Dial-a-Mentor All Rolled Into One

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popuppeopleYou’ve run into a hurdle with your advocacy work. Maybe your client has a challenge you can’t seem to solve for him, or the hospital is standing between you and your client’s medical records…. Or maybe you are just stuck for a good marketing idea, and you know you’ve got an opportunity, you just can’t get your arms around it…. Maybe you have a special interest topic in advocacy, like mental health, or legal mediation, or insurance claims or…. yes, I could go on and on.

You need resources – but where can you go to find the help you need?  Where can you find the person with the answer? Where can you find like-minded advocates…. Or sometimes, just when you’re struggling with one business problem or another, where can you go to just talk to someone else who might be able to lend a hand?

What if it was a simple as dialing the phone?

Well – now it is. Last week we kicked off Pop Up Conversations for members of the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates – ways to connect with each other by phone, as needed, on any topic of your choosing.

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If I Could File a Lawsuit, I Would

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blindfoldI’m really angry at the investment firm Morgan Stanley – really angry.  I have had to deal with them since my father died, trying to manage and move a small IRA my sisters and I inherited, and they have done their utmost to make that impossible.

I’ve told the story at my About.com blog because the bottom line is – if there was such a thing as a financial services advocate, I would hire him or her.  That’s a great lesson for patients, with similar concepts applied to their medical care, and will hopefully make some of your phones ring, too.

But I’m so angry and frustrated by my experience with Morgan Stanley, that if there was such a thing as filing a lawsuit over their behavior, I would file one. Within this experience are some lessons for advocates, how we handle customer service, and how we keep ourselves from being sued.

You can read some of the story here. I’ve listed some of their transgressions, but not the worst ones. In that About.com post, I didn’t talk about the contracts they insisted I sign – “immediately or we’ll miss the deadline!” – in which they had already checked off boxes that made choices I would never make. Fine print, intended to trick me? Or the fact that I almost had to pay penalties because Dad had not taken a minimum distribution for 2012 – a fact pointed out to me in the 11th hour – a question I never would have known to ask.

I’m so angry, in fact, that I’m writing about them publicly and naming names. I’ve threatened to report them to the SEC. You don’t EVER want your clients to become so angry at you.

At the root of my anger is, that just like your clients and potential clients, I don’t know what I don’t know, and Morgan Stanley is treating me like a mushroom – keeping me in the dark and feeding me, well, animal waste.

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How Aha! Moments Build Businesses

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ideaAt least a half dozen times in the past few weeks I’ve been asked what it was that compelled me to begin building AdvoConnection (and, of course, The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates.)  It occurs to me that even if you are a member, you may not know the story, or, even more important, how it can affect the work you do, too.

Many readers of this blog know that my two earlier careers were first, as a schoolteacher, then by the early 1980s, I transitioned to marketing. In my lifetime, I never expected to work or know anything about healthcare except as I needed such services for myself or a loved one.  I didn’t even have any healthcare marketing clients – my knowledge of healthcare was limited to my personal experiences….

That was…. until my frightening, life-changing terminal diagnosis in the summer of 2004 which, for 11 weeks, led me to believe I had only a few months to live.  (You can read about my misdiagnosis odyssey here.)

Over the next few years, as I studied, learned, and wrote more and more about the healthcare system’s flaws, and how patients could ramp up their own knowledge to improve their own outcomes despite those flaws, I had more and more invitations to speak to larger groups across the country about patient empowerment.

There would be dozens or hundreds of patients and caregivers at those presentations.  And over and over again they would tell me variations of two stories:

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Holiday Hospital Dangers Spell HERO for Patient Advocates

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heroThere is no time like the present to keep your clients out of the hospital. Just raising the issue may make you a hero to them.

I realize how dramatic that sounds, but bear with me here.

Think about any workplace you’ve ever worked in during the holidays. Employees, even customers, are not nearly as focused on the work-at-hand as they are during non-holiday times. They may be taking sick days or personal days off (shopping and baking take precedence!), they may be leaving work early to see their kids in the Holiday Concert at school.  They may be laughing and joking about how someone behaved at the office party the night before, or maybe they are distracted by thoughts of the shopping that isn’t yet done, or the in-laws (who they never really get along with) who are arriving tomorrow.

And that’s the point. There are dozens of time and thought-consuming distractions during holiday times. Then, as the holiday date draws closer, the most senior staff members (if not everyone) begin checking out for days or weeks of vacation time. Important questions go on a shelf until those folks return to work. Less senior staff, or part-timers, are the ones left to make snap decisions when called for, no matter how dire those decisions are. They make them to the best of their ability, but there’s always a question about whether they are making the right decision.

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Advocate for Patients and the Environment, Too

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Among the dozens of details that needed attention after my father died, was figuring out what to do with the virtual pharmacy we found in his apartment.  Dad was a firm believer of better living through chemistry – and he had dozens of prescription bottles, supplements and vitamins, patches and more, in the bathroom, the kitchen and next to his desk.  I think CVS could have stocked up from his stash.

Among them were drugs he had taken that hadn’t worked – so the entire rest of the prescription just got put away.  We also found dozens of herbal supplements he had tried over the years ranging from dandelion weed, to pomegranate capsules, from controlled substances like hydrocodone and oxycontin, to the leftovers of some heavy duty prostate cancer drugs.

We had to dispose of them, of course.

The social worker and nurse from hospice came by to log the amount of the remaining pain meds they had prescribed in his last few weeks – but they were not allowed (state law I think?) to take the leftovers with them. I asked how they suggested we dispose of them, and the nurse replied, “Just flush them.”

I almost fell over.  Flushing drugs is one of the most dangerous things we can do to our environment, in particular because it taints our drinking water. Studies have shown traces of human drugs in the water supply of every metro water supply in the US. Beyond that, fish have been found to be genetically altered by human drugs in rivers and streams.

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