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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The Great Divide: The Haves and Have Nots

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(Originally posted June 2011. Updated June 2019)

The health and patient advocates who are listed at AdvoConnection are all private practice advocates; that is, they work directly for patients and the patients pay them.  Their services are not covered by insurance, their services aren’t donated or free.  This is how these advocates make a living – they are paid by patients or caregivers.

That seems to upset some people, and lately, it seems like a number of people have taken some sort of offense at that idea – as if patients or caregivers should not have the right to seek private help for their navigation through the healthcare system, or should not be able to call on someone to help them organize, or decrease their medical bills…. or that the very talented group of APHA members should not have the right to start a business offering the services they want to offer.

Seriously?

Here are the reasons I believe that attitude is so misguided:

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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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