A Surefire Way to Drive Older Clients Away

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elderlyOK – so I confess. I talk baby talk to my dog. He’s little, and snuggly, and adorable – and it’s just so easy to call him cutesy names and fall into that simplification of short sentences that we do with babies, too.

Just what is it about babies and puppy dogs that begs us to speak baby talk to them?  I think that it’s that aura of vulnerability that surrounds them. Vulnerability that begs us to be reassuring or coddling or just drippy-sweet.  They clearly need caretaking or caregiving, and we, as their protectors, want to make them feel secure and… well, loved.

Thus, babytalk. It makes us feel as if we are providing that security and happiness we know they crave. We think it makes us sound supportive and helpful. It just seems to come so naturally.

An email I received from an APHA member this week made me think about this topic. She shared her own elderly mother’s experience with a home health worker.  Hazel, the elderly mother (not her real name) is sharp as a tack, but knew she could use some assistance. Our member helped her mom, Hazel, find a private advocate. Unfortunately, it didn’t go so well. Turns out Hazel got frustrated because she felt pressure to do things, or sign things, or make choices she didn’t want to make. Specifically she felt as if her advocate wouldn’t listen to her or trust her ability to make decisions.

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Profession – or Calling? What Do You Consider Your Advocacy Work?

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contemplateThe month of March 2013 brought me more opportunities than I remember in a long time to think about the reasons I do the work I do – why I have chosen my profession, what I hope to get out of it, and what drives me to want to build its success – and your success, too.

Why now?  Well, frankly, even though I am not Catholic, it started with the election of a new pope. Throughout the discussions leading up to the Conclave, then the election of Pope Francis, much of the emphasis was on the passion the job required; that it wasn’t just about being a leader, it was about heart and commitment. (And whether or not you care one wit about the election of this new pope, whether or not you agree with the tenets he stands for, it’s clear to see the man is a new kind of leader, and most definitely has passion and commitment.)

As the pioneers who have started a movement in patient or health advocacy, it’s the same for us. We are leaders.  We lead with our passion.  We are wholly committed to success – both the success our clients will find in their journeys, and the success we hope to find with our practices. The “passion” aspects are very different from most professions, and it’s what makes us unique. How many other professions are rooted in passion and heart?

Then Passover came along.

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Client Discussions: Where Do Spirituality and Religion Come In?

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My travels over the past two weeks have ultimately taken me to Florida where I’ll be staying for awhile to spend time with my dad.  It’s the latest in many, many visits, which I mention only because that means I have gotten to know many of Dad’s friends over the years, too. In fact, I’ve gotten to know a handful of them very well, so that I actually seek them out once I get here to be sure I have the opportunity to spend some time with them.

One such friend is a gentleman I’ll call Jim, who lives next door to Dad. A retired lawyer, Jim has now become a Eucharistic Minister who calls on many sick people and leads services on a Sunday morning.  He is well-respected and admired by so many, a man who balances his sense of fairness with his religion and spirituality. He puts a great deal of effort into making sure that anyone who would like to attend his services, regardless of their religious affiliation, is welcome to do so.

The three of us enjoyed brunch together today, and as it frequently does, the conversation turned to how life experiences were affected by our spirituality, the meshing (or repelling) of religion and politics, other people’s experiences as seen through a spiritual lens, and more…. Since Dad and Jim both live in a senior transitional-type community, where friends are often undergoing medical treatment, and where too many friends pass away, some of the discussion centered on healthcare and spirituality.

Midway through this morning’s conversation I realized (duh!) that perhaps spirituality is a topic advocates should be addressing with their clients. Considering the tendency of most human beings, whether or not they are religious (part of a specific religion), to turn to prayer and pastoral support when they are faced with a health crisis (their own, or a loved one’s), it seems that at least discussing spiritual needs with clients could be useful in at least three ways: Continue Reading →

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Getting Your Clients Past Magical Thinking

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Today’s post is very personal, reflecting a situation I believe many families go through, brought on by any number of attitudes and fears.  I’m hoping that by sharing it, you can find a role for your advocacy work.

It’s about providing a gift to some of your patients and their families – in effect, giving them permission to say no to further treatment.

As I thought about the situation, I remembered back to a blog post I had written almost four years ago called “When Is It Time to Just Say NO to Further Treatment?”  When I wrote it, I was referring to my mother who at the time was in her 10th year of her Alzheimer’s diagnosis and had little or no cognition left, yet my father kept insisting she be treated for every urinary tract infection (UTI) she acquired (or, perhaps more like, never really got rid of.)  It made no sense to me, yet Dad was just so desperate to keep Mom alive.

My post was based on this article from the New York Times:  In Cancer Therapy, There Is a Time to Treat and a Time to Let Go which talks about patients desperately insisting on treatment, even though it not only won’t prolong their lives, but will actually cause them more distress. In effect, helping them get past (what many experts call) Magical Thinking.

The question is:  Who suggests to the patient and family that a treatment isn’t magical?  Who helps them get past wishful thinking and into reality?  Who says to a cancer patient, “Chemo is toxic, and while you might get an extra week or two on this earth, you’ll be sicker for that time – your quality of life cannot be improved. Are you sure you still want to put yourself through that?” ??? Continue Reading →

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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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FOR PATIENTS | FOR ADVOCATES

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